Didcot Town won the Dale Roberts Memorial Cup with a 1-0 victory against hosts AFC Rushden & Diamonds on Saturday afternoon.
Diamonds started brightly but suffered two injury blows in the early stages. Debutant trialist right-back Ash Deeney lasted just 3 minutes and his positional replacement fellow debutant Kyal McNulty who had started in centre midfield lasted just 27 minutes. Despite the disruption Diamonds shaded possession and created a number of half chances and good positions. Evangelinos, Parsons and Orosz were prominent in the most dangerous moments, and Chris Wreh dragged an effort wide from a good position on 32.
Didcot noticeably upped the tempo in the second half with substitute George Reid prominent and took a deserved lead on 51. A sweeping move came from a midfield challenge the ball cut back to Sam Barder who swept home beautifully from 20 yards. A triple change for Diamonds bringing on Nabil Sharif, Jake Newman and trialist Jordan Henson injected energy into the performance and they pressed hard for an equaliser in the last 30 minutes. Newman had one good shot blocked and screwed another just wide, Lorraine had a header cleared off the line and scuffed a decent chance wide from 8 yards, Shariff had a shot blocked on the line but Robbie Parsons had the best chance on 80 side footing over the bar from 8 yards.
Didcot held out comfortably in the end and were presented with the Dale Roberts Memorial Cup by Dale’s parents on the pitch after the game to fulsome applause from 217 crowd.
Manager Andy Peaks brought two trialists into his starting line-up with Ash Deeney starting at right-back alongside Sam Brown, Lewis Jackson and Brad Harris. Kyal Mcnulty started in midfield alongside Lewis Leslie and Nic Evangelinos with Chris Wreh, Taylor Orosz and Robbie Parsons up front.
On a breezy overcast but still warm afternoon Diamonds came close to breaking through twice in the early minutes through Orosz and Wreh pressing the last man but saw new full-back Ash Deeney go down off the ball on just 3 minutes. After lengthy treatment he was replaced by Tom Lorraine possibly without having touched the ball.
With Tom Lorraine in the centre midfield role he took on so well a few times last season Kyal Mcnulty dropped back into a full-back position and Diamonds continued to press forward. Nic Evangelinos got his head to a whipped in right wing cross his header floating just over, Orosz saw his close range effort blocked, and Evangelinos pounced on a cleared Sam Brown long throw to dance past his marker and fire in a dangerous cross.
At 3.24 the Peter De Banke Terrace broke into “there’s only one Dale Roberts” to mark a minutes applause for the much missed and well-loved former Diamonds keeper.
Soon after Didcot pressed strongly nearly getting free in the box only to be denied by first by Kyal Mcnulty and then by keeper Matt Finlay putting in a last gasp edge of the box tackle. It was Mcnulty’s last contribution after battling on from a thigh injury he had to be replace by James Harvey.
As the half drew to a close Evangelinos came close for the home side sweeping an effort from 20 yards just wide after a corner had only been half cleared, and Lewis Leslie put in a Liam Dolman impression with a 40 yard free kick driven low and hard but just wide.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Didcot Town 0
Didcot made a change at the break bringing impressive midfielder George Reid on and noticeably upped their tempo and showing their undoubted potential in Southern League South & West Division.
Striker Ben Whitehead picked up an unusual pre-season friendly yellow card after testing referee Wayne Chalmers patience once too often, but he immediately came close after a strong break seeing his shot blocked from inside the box.
The opening goal wasn’t long coming though as Didcot won the ball in midfield on 51, swept forward with Reid involved, and saw the ball fall to Sam Barder in space just outside the box to sweep beautifully into the bottom corner.
Manager Andy Peaks responded with a triple substitution introducing Nabil Shariff, Jake Newman and trialist Jordan Henson for Taylor Orosz, Chris Wreh and Nic Evangelinos. It injected energy into the Diamonds performance and they pressed forward for the pretty much the remainder of the match although Didcot continued to threaten themselves in a much improved second half.
Jake Newman had a shot blocked at the end of end of a trademark run and Tom Lorraine saw his header blocked near the line from the Sam Brown’s cross from the resultant corner. James Harvey was showing his genuine ability with great touch and passing in midfield getting Newman away down the left on 64 to create a chance for Robbie Parsons whose shot was blocked on the edge of the box.
Tom Lorraine pushing further forward nearly converted excellent work by Brad Harris but scuffed his 8 yard finish when well placed, before Nabil Shariff latched onto Jake Newman’s flick to test the keeper at the near post.
James Harvey so composed on the ball again put Jake Newman away on 75 and as he cut into the left side of the area his low crisp shot evaded the outstretched hand of the Didcot keeper but also just the far post.
As the pressure mounted Robbie Parsons had the best chance to pull Diamonds level when a deep Sam Brown cross was knocked into his path but his side footed finish of a bouncing ball went just over the Peter De Banke end bar.
Didcot were still moving the ball well and threatening the home goal while managing possession well in the closing stages with just a long Sam Brown throw the only late danger for the home side, it was well held by the Didcot Keeper under pressure.
The final whistle came after 4 minutes of added time with Didcot Town the deserved winners.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Didcot Town 1
This was a competitive game and a really good workout for both sides as the regular season opener gets ever closer. It was a fitting tribute to the much missed Diamonds hero Dale Roberts and it was lovely to see his parents presenting the Cup to a Didcot Town side who deserved their win and honoured the occasion so well.
Next up for Diamonds are two away trips before the season proper starts at Newcastle Town on the 13th. It is Raunds Town away on Tuesday followed by old foes Hednesford Town next Saturday.
Reporters Man of the Match: Sam Brown
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Ash Deeney
3. Lewis Jackson
4. Sam Brown
5. Brad Harris
6. Kyal Mcnulty
7. Lewis Leslie
8. Robbie Parsons
9. Chris Wreh
10. Taylor Orosz
11. Nic Evangelinos
12. Nabil Shariff (for Orosz 55)
13. Alex Vitue
14. Jordan Henson (for Evangelinos 55)
15. Richard Bunting
16. Tom Lorraine (for Deeney 3)
18. Jake Newman (for Wreh 55)
20. James Harvey (for Mcnulty 27)
1. Leigh Bedwell
2. Sam Elkins
3. James Organ
4. James Keeble
5. Harry Beer
6. Adam Learoyd
7. Sam Barber
8. Alex Woodhouse
9. Ben Whitehead
10. Ryan Brooks
11. Nick Thorne
12. Ollie Thomas
14. Marvin Martin
15. Kieran Collins
16. George Reid
Goals: Barder (51)
Yellow Cards: Whitehead
Referee: Wayne Chalmers
Assistants: Sam Anderson