AFC Rushden & Diamonds battled their way to a hard fought but ultimately well earnt 2-1 victory over Deeping Rangers at the Haydon Whitham Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Liam Dolman put the Diamonds into the lead after 13 minutes when he glanced home a corner from Richard Bunting, but Deeping always carried a threat and grabbed an equaliser on the half hour mark with winger Jordan Avis firing home through a crowd of players. As the visitors upped the pressure in the second half a goal seemed inevitable, and it was Liam Dolman again who delivered it in almost a carbon copy of his first effort, rising highest to power a header into the back of the net. Deeping were reduced to 10 men midway through the second period, and the Diamonds were able to see out the rest of the game for an imperative three points.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the side that grabbed a dramatic equaliser at Holbeach two weeks ago, with Adam Confue missing through suspension and Neil King being ruled out with a back injury. Brad Harris moved into midfield with Charlie Butt coming into the side at right-back, and Richard Bunting made a welcome return to the team after a spell on the sidelines through injury.
On a boggy and bobbly pitch, the Diamonds were looking to make a quick start and almost had the perfect opening. A long ball forward from Bunting wasn’t fully dealt with by the Deeping backline, and Spencer Tinkler’s attempted header back to the keeper was latched onto by Russ Dunkley, but his attempted effort was well blocked. Dunkley was involved again in the 12th minute when he won a 50-50 challenge in midfield, with Declan Rogers picking up the loose ball on the left wing. He looked up and clipped a ball over the defence for Tommy Berwick to chase, and his lob from a tight angle was comfortably held by goalkeeper Daniel Bircham.
However, in the away side’s next foray forward, they took the lead. Dunkley saw a cross from the left byline blocked away for a corner, and Bunting curled in an inviting delivery for defender Liam Dolman to flick a header past the helpless Deeping stopper.
It was a simple yet very effective goal, but any thoughts of Diamonds going on and dominating the rest of the game were dispelled by Deeping’s response. Despite the heaviness of the pitch, the home side were able to get the ball down and play, and due to the Diamonds tending to stand off their opposition in the opening period, Rangers were able to dictate the tempo and flow of the game in the next 20 minutes.
One such instance saw Avis slip a ball into the path of home striker Jezz Goldson-Williams and he feinted a shot that threw Sam Brown off balance, though his left footed effort after cutting in was parried to his right and to safety by Matt Finlay in the Diamonds net. Rushden went down the other end, and after Elliot Lamb-Johnson was fouled some 30 yards from goal, fellow winger Rogers curled the free-kick straight into Bircham’s grateful arms.
The play swung back down the other end, and with it came a Deeping leveller. After a neat passing build-up that included eight passes the ball was played into full-back Thomas Smith, who pulled it back for Jordan Avis to fire home into the far right-hand corner past an unsighted Finlay. The goal could have been further added to three minutes later, but following another nice passing exchange in midfield, Goldson-Williams curled an effort over the crossbar from the right side of the penalty area.
The Diamonds needed a response to this strong pressure from the home team, and they went close on two separate occasions. Firstly, a well directed Rogers cross on the volley was flicked wide of the near post by Berwick, and then the compliment was returned to almost devastating effect a minute after. Lamb-Johnson chipped a ball down the right flank for Berwick to run onto, and he showed great poise and turn of feet to adroitly flick the ball around the defender. He fired a ball back to Rogers just inside the penalty area, but whilst slipping his attempted shot was blocked away by a covering defender. The subsequent corner saw the ball being played back out to Rogers after it was initially cleared, and his cross found Dunkley to float a header right at the Rangers goalkeeper.
One final chance of the opening period fell to the hosts with Scott Ginty drilling a 25 yard effort over the top after the Diamonds had allowed Deeping time and room, and the half-time whistle was blown soon after on a well balanced and even affair.
Half Time: Deeping Rangers 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Upon the commencement of the second half, it was clear to see that the Diamonds had a greater purpose about their play and were quicker in chasing and harrying the home side in comparison to the opening period. A prime example saw tigerish play from Bunting in charging down two attempted clearances and finding himself through on goal, but he could only toe-poke the ball goalwards, and the ball was blocked and eventually collected by the keeper.
On only his second appearance for the club, Berwick was proving a real test for the home defence with his movement off the ball and his willingness to run the channels, and he almost had a goal to his name in the 52nd minute. A long throw by Brown was flicked on by Dunkley to his strike partner, though his swift swivel and shot was well held by Bircham.
Bunting was then fouled around 30 yards out from goal after Rogers had seen a goalbound effort blocked, and his resulting free-kick had Bircham moving to his right-hand side to tip the ball over the bar. Tom Lorraine entered the action after a lengthy lay-off to replace Lamb-Johnson, with Rushden slightly altering their formation to a fluid and quick-paced 4-3-3. This meant Declan Rogers moved into a more central role, and it was he who saw an effort deflected inches wide of the upright with the goalkeeper wrong-footed. The following corner saw Dunkley and Bircham challenging in the air, but the danger was cleared as the ball dropped near the goal-line.
There was a feeling that the heavy pressure being applied by the Diamonds had to tell eventually, and so it did in the 64th minute. It was almost a replica of the first goal, as Dunkley won a corner through a blocked shot, Bunting curled the ball in and Liam Dolman rose majestically ahead of the keeper to power a header into the back of the net in front of the well-travelled Diamonds fans.
The game shifted even further in Diamonds’ favour when the home side were reduced to 10 men after 67 minutes. After dealing well with a Deeping corner, Diamonds tried to launch a counter attack through Lorraine, but a sliding challenge from Ginty left the away substitute writhing in pain on the ground. Referee Kevin Saunby deemed the challenge out of control and dangerous, and issued the Deeping midfielder with a red card.
The visitors now sensed blood, and had multiple chances to put the game well and truly beyond doubt. Lorraine, who had recovered from that previous challenge, played a pass across to Brad Harris, and he threaded an intricate ball through to Rogers who saw his turn and shot saved by the legs of the Deeping stopper. Lorraine was again involved in the action six minutes later in the 78th minute after Dunkley played him in down the left side, but after his shot was parried away by Bircham, Berwick could only contrive to put the rebound over the vacant goal from eight yards out.
Rushden were nearly made to rue this clear opportunity when Deeping substitute Mohammed Hamid tricked his way inside Sam Brown on the right flank, and his curling shot saw a scrambling Finlay grab the ball in his grasp to his right-hand side. Diamonds responded with a Berwick cross from the right being collected by Rogers on the run, and his cross saw some heroic last ditch defending by Daniel Flack denying Dunkley a tap in at the back post. The Diamonds number nine had one last chance to grab a goal that his performance merited, but after a Brown long throw reached him, his strike lacked power and found the side-netting.
There was just enough time for Matt Gearing to appear from the substitutes bench and come on for his 100th appearance for the Diamonds, with the winger receiving hearty applause from all the visiting supporters present in the ground. Despite a couple of late free-kicks and some attacking by the home side, Diamonds managed to nullify the danger and deal with any threat, and the relief was palpable as they claimed a vital three points at the sound of the full-time whistle.
Full Time: Deeping Rangers 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Although the visitors were not at their free-flowing best, it was crucial that the Diamonds kept the pressure on their closest promotion rivals Holbeach after their loss to Cogenhoe last week, and this they managed. A strong defensive performance exemplified by Dolman and Harris limited a young and energetic Deeping side to sporadic sights of goal, and their threat from set-pieces down the other end was well evidenced by two goals from corner kicks. At this stage of the season, the results are always more important than the performances, and Diamonds now move 11 points clear of Holbeach who have four games in hand. They are next in league action on Saturday February 14 when they entertain Peterborough Northern Star at the Dog & Duck.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Liam Dolman
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Daniel Bircham
2. Daniel Flack
3. Thomas Smith
4. Spencer Tinkler
5. Joe Braithwaite
6. David Burton-Jones (C)
7. Charlie Coulson
8. Scott Ginty
9. Jamie Graham
10. Jezz Goldson-Williams
11. Jordan Avis
12. Adam Scotcher (for Graham 75)
14. Matthew Carter (for Avis 75)
15. Thomas Palmer
16. Mohammed Hamid (for Goldson-Williams 75)
17. Matt Finlay
2. Charlie Butt
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Brad Harris
7. Elliot Lamb-Johnson
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Tommy Berwick
11. Declan Rogers
12. Tom Lorraine (for Lamb-Johnson 57)
13. Rhys Redding
14. Scott Joseph
15. Matt Gearing (for Dunkley 88)
16. Jason Turner
Goals: Avis (30)
Goals: Dolman (13, 64)
Yellow Cards: Tinkler (25), Burton-Jones (55)
Yellow Cards: Lamb-Johnson (23)
Red Cards: Ginty (67)
Red Cards: None
Referee: Kevin Saunby
Assistants: Louise Thorold, Mark Bruntlett
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.