Diamonds were held to a draw by Deeping Rangers in the FA Cup Preliminary Round on Saturday afternoon.
The opening exchanges were keenly contested with no chance of note for either side, but Diamonds should have taken the lead with their first opportunity when a Jack Bowen flick found John Dean who saw a goalbound effort blocked before a lurking Ben Farrell saw his rebound similarly charged away. Deeping took the lead in the 17th minite when striker Scott Moody turned Blaize Punter and slammed a rising left-footed effort past Heath and into the roof of the net at the near post. There was then a long delay shortly afterwards as Jack Ashton and home midfielder Jason Kilbride, who used to play for Diamonds, challenged for the ball in midfield, and the Deeping player needed the attention of both physios and a stretcher to help him off the pitch in what looked a very serious injury. That led to ten minutes added on at the end of the half, and just before these began Diamonds equalised. Farrell laid a precise through-ball to the advancing Gyasi and he and the keeper collided as the shot was saved, and it ran for Bowen to slot home the rebound for the equaliser.
Rushden came out with more intensity in the second period, and went on to dominate the half as a result. Dean flicked a lob just wide of the far post, Jack Westbrook headed a corner wide and substitute Tom Lorraine saw a goalbound effort blocked behind. Lorraine then put a header wide, Farrell had an effort charged behind, and Brown somehow put the ball over an empty net after Callum Westwood’s low ball across the face of goal. Punter met a corner just before the full-time whistle only for his header to be cleared off the line, and with the last kick of the match substitute Shawn Richards headed wide of the post as Diamonds were just unable to find a breakthrough, and so the tie will go to a replay.
Manager Andy Peaks made the solitary change that had suffered last-minute heartbreak against Stourbridge a week ago, with Sam Brown returning to the starting XI as Diamonds again lined up with a 4-3-3 formation. He took the captains armband alongside a defence of Jack Ashton, Blaize Punter and Callum Westwood, and a midfield three of Jack Westbrook, Nathan Hicks and Ben Farrell were deployed behind an attacking trio of John Dean, Jack Bowen and Joel Gyasi. There were welcome returns from injury for both Liam Dolman and Tom Lorraine amongst the substitutes, and also Shawn Richards was named on the bench for the first time in his third stint for the club.
As the two sides stepped out onto the Haydon Whitham playing surface there was a keen sense of intrigue felt but everyone around the ground. The United Counties Premier League hosts had enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season and had reached the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round last season where they were featured on the BBC Sport website in their defeat to Kidderminster Harriers, and in their shot history Diamonds had already reached the Third Qualifying Round twice and the Fourth Qualifying Round once in an affinity with a competition in which they had already created many memories. Diamonds had defeated Deeping in the Second Qualifying Round back in September 2015 and had also won on all their previous visits to Outgang Road, but with the hosts being 4th in their league and it being the FA Cup the visitors knew they had a tough test on their hands. After the players had shook hands and the captains had conducted the coin-toss, referee Stuart Richardson blew his whistle to begin the contest.
The hosts made a lively start to proceedings and threatened in only the second minute. Striker Scott Mooney got down the left before delivering a dangerous cross that ran across the area and was cleared by a Diamonds defender, and then in the following attack a Deeping man advanced before hitting a shot that drifted well wide of the post from around 30 yards out. Moments later ex-Diamonds man Jason Kilbride had an opportunity to shoot from range, but the attempt went harmlessly wide.
Rushden had their opening chance in the fifth minute when Jack Westbrook connected with a volley only for it to fly well over the crossbar, but largely it was the UCL Premier side who had begun proceedings the livelier and the more energetic. Diamonds did threaten when Westbrook flicked a precise pass around the corner for Nathan Hicks to run into the right side of the area before his cross was blocked behind, but the first corner of the match came to nothing and the score remained goalless.
That deadlock should have been broken in the 16th minute when the visitors came so close to scoring. A long diagonal ball from Brown found Jack Bowen inside the area who flicked it down towards John Dean just outside the six-yard box. He chested it down and seemed to have the goal at his mercy only for home defender Matt Ilsley to make a goal-saving block, and the ball squeezed out to Ben Farrell who took a touch before his shot was also charged down and the danger was eventually cleared.
A minute later Deeping took the lead. They won a throw-in on the left halfway inside their attacking half, and Jack Fryett threw it into the path of Scott Mooney. The front-man turned Punter before using his strength to hold off a challenge from the defender and then flashing a shot past Heath and into the roof of the net at the near post. Diamonds looked to respond immediately as from the kick-off Dean sprinted down the left to cross into the middle where Bowen and Hicks looked to head goalwards, but neither could get a true connection and it squirmed through for the goalkeeper to collect.
The hosts’ goal seemed to have spurred the visitors into some action, and they created another chance when Gyasi played a pass inside to Farrell only for his shot to be blocked behind for a corner. The subsequent set-piece found Jack Ashton whose flick goalwards was again blocked away to loud appeals of handball from Diamonds players and fans alike, but the referee waved the penalty appeals away. Ashton was involved again shortly afterwards when he and Kilbride challenged for the ball on the halfway line. The Deeping man came off much worse as both teams’ physios quickly ran onto the pitch and a stretcher was called for, and after ten minutes of treatment the home player was stretchered off.
This understandably altered the tempo of the game initially as both teams still came to terms with the serious nature of the injury, and the next piece of action saw Hicks receive the first yellow card of the game for sliding in on Mooney. The home goalscorer was involved again moments later when he saw a shot blocked only for the loose ball to run out to left winger Michael Simpson. He looked up before curling a teasing cross to the far post that found Mooney in plenty of space, but he had to stretch to meet the ball and as a result his header flashed wide of the upright.
The game was being played at a quick pace now with both sides threatening, and Diamonds were the next to spring on the attack. Dean, who looked dangerous throughout, sped down the left before finding a cross that was just behind Farrell, and so the midfielder’s header went harmlessly wide. A few minutes later the away side won a throw-in on the left, and Brown’s long dispatch into the area was headed away only as far as Farrell. However, he couldn’t get over the top of his half-volley and the effort went comfortably over the bar.
The visitors had looked more dangerous as the half had worn on, and they found an equaliser on the stroke of half-time. Gyasi dashed forward from his own half before feeding Bowen who played it back to Farrell, and the midfielder played a perfectly weighted through ball back to the onrushing Gyasi. The winger slid in to shoot just before colliding with the advancing keeper, and his save saw the loose ball run to the nearby Jack Bowen who calmly slotted the rebound into the empty net.
Gyasi initially stayed down as a result of the challenge, but after a couple of minutes of treatment he was okay to continue. Ten minutes of additional time at the end of the half then began, and in the third of these Gyasi threatened again. He reached a loose ball on the right before jinking away from his marker and whipping a cross into the area that saw the keeper get a slight touch to direct the ball narrowly away from the arriving Bowen seeking his second goal. The striker was then involved in a collision with Deeping man Dan Schiavi as they challenged for a header, and blood was running from Bowen’s nose as he received treatment off the pitch.
That was to be the final action of the half, one which had seen plenty of action and one which laid still very much in the balance as the two teams headed to the changing rooms.
Half Time: Deeping Rangers 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Thoughts were mainly on Jason Kilbride during the half-time interval as everybody around the ground wished the best for him, and as both sets of players made their way back onto the pitch another injury had led to an enforced substitution. Bowen was unable to continue as a result of the collision with Schiavi just before half-time, and so Tom Lorraine took his place up front as the referee got the action back underway.
The hosts had a couple of half-chances in the early stages of the half as firstly a strike from long-range sailed wide of the post, and then a deep free-kick was headed wide at the back post. However, aside from these and a couple of other moments, it was to be Diamonds who would control and be in the ascendancy for the remainder of the game. Their first opportunity arose when a Heath goal-kick was well flicked on by Lorraine for Dean to run through on goal. The home keeper had run out to close the angle, and as the ball sat up the Diamonds man flicked an effort past him only for it to run narrowly wide of the far post.
Shortly afterwards Callum Westwood, who would prove to be a constant threat down the right wing in the half, strode forward before whipping a cross in for Hicks, but he had to readjust his body to meet the ball and so his improvised header flashed over the bar. The hour mark passed as Rushden continued to increase their tempo and visibly were playing five to ten yards further up the pitch, and they created another headed opportunity. This time they won a corner on the right, and Gyasi’s pinpoint delivery found Westbrook who had the run on his marker, but unfortunately for the visitors he could only steer his header wide of the far post.
Two minutes later Dean embarked on a quick, jinking run down the left that saw him easily skip past his marker before he ran into the area and cut it back to Lorraine. His effort from point-blank range was superbly blocked behind, and from the resulting corner the ball ran past a couple of players at the near post before it hit the unaware Ashton and looped up over the keeper but onto the roof of the net. The pressure was intensifying by the minute and they again came close to taking the lead in the 69th minute. A ball was played down the line for the galloping Westwood to flash a cross into the area, and Lorraine timed his leap to perfection to get above defender Luke Hunnings only for him to put his header wide of the post.
Still the Diamonds didn’t let up and, aside from the odd Deeping counter, they were completely dominating and monopolising possession and territory. Dean set up a quick attack as he found Farrell in his own half before he in turn found Gyasi running forward but, despite a couple of men in support, the winger was unable to get the ball across and the attack was snuffed. They were quickly back on the offensive though and Hicks played a neat ball into the path of Farrell who strode into the area before his goalbound effort was brilliantly blocked behind by the covering Luke Andersen.
Dean was at the heart of another move when he cut inside from the left before seeing a curling shot charged down, but the visitors kept the attack alive as play was shifted out to the right. Westwood was fed a pass and he ran forward before flashing a low ball across the face of goal. The keeper missed it and it ran through for the stretching Brown, but with the goal at his mercy the effort went over the crossbar. Immediately afterwards Gyasi ran down the right before cutting back inside and seeing a low effort held by the keeper at the near post.
The game entered the final ten minutes with Diamonds still looking the most likely and still creating chances aplenty. In the 82nd minute Westwood stood a deep cross up to the back post where Lorraine flicked it onto Dean, but he was just unable to generate room for a shot and the opportunity was gone. Moments later Westwood delivered another dangerous ball that Ashton flicked on, but Andersen was in the right place at the right time to head over his own crossbar. Brown then pitched a long ball towards the back post where Ashton headed across the area for Farrell to volley goalwards, but the effort was blocked behind. The resultant inswinging delivery found the rising Punter, and his bullet header beat the keeper all ends up only for a covering defender on the line to hack the ball away to safety.
Dan Clifton and Shawn Richards had been introduced into the action at the expense of Hicks and Dean a few minutes before, but time was running out for Diamonds to find a winning goal. One minute before the end of the regulatory 90 minutes Westwood sprinted down the right wing before seeing a cross deflected behind, and the ensuing set-piece was cleared out only as far as Clifton. He fired a shot back in from around 35 yards out and, though the keeper initially spilt the shot, he was able to drop back onto it and hold it in his grasp.
Stoppage time began, and one final chance presented itself to Diamonds. Heath punted a long ball forward to the edge of the area where Lorraine flicked it across to Richards, but the substitute’s glancing header dropped wide of the post. Shortly afterwards the referee signalled the end of the game, with the replay set to take place at Hayden Road on Tuesday September 4th.
Full Time: Deeping Rangers 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This represented a slightly frustrating draw for the Diamonds as, despite a bright and quick start from the hosts which saw them take the lead, they fought their way back into the game and equalised before controlling the second period and coming close to a winner on many occasions. Credit must go to Deeping for the way in which they had the better of most of the opening half, and for the way they defended strongly and manfully in the second, and both sides will have another chance in the replay in ten days time. Everybody’s thoughts and best wishes go to Jason Kilbride for the injury he suffered in the opening half, and everyone hopes he has as quick a recovery as possible. There’s a quick turnaround as Diamonds are back in league action on Monday afternoon when they make the trip to Cambridgeshire to take on St Neots Town (August 27th, 15:00pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Westbrook
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Richard Stainsby
2. Matt Ilsley
3. Jack Fryett
4. Dave Burton-Jones (C)
5. Luke Hunnings
6. Luke Andersen
7. Jason Kilbride
8. Charlie Coulson
9. Scott Mooney
10. Dan Schiavi
11. Michael Simpson
12. Matt Carter
14. Harry Allcock (for Kilbride 31)
15. Archie Sootheran
16. Jack Marsden
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Blaize Punter
6. Jack Ashton
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Ben Farrell
9. Jack Bowen
10. John Dean
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Dan Clifton (for Hicks 83)
14. Ty Ward
15. Liam Dolman
16. Tom Lorraine (for Bowen HT)
18. Albert Hopkins
19. Shawn Richards (for Dean 83)
20. Cameron Gilchrist
Goals: Mooney (17)
Goals: Bowen (45)
Yellow Cards: Burton-Jones (85)
Yellow Cards: Hicks (35)
Referee: Stuart Richardson
Assistants: Ryan Barnes, Corey Simpson