AFC Rushden & Diamonds began life in the UCL Premier Division with a well-earned victory over fancied Deeping Rangers at Outgang Road on Saturday afternoon. Jack Wisniewski scored the first Diamonds goal at Step 5 in the non-league football pyramid, and after the hosts had levelled before half-time, goals from Alfie Taylor and Fazel Koriya had made the game safe before a late consolation for Rangers.
In the absence of Mark Starmer, assistant manager Andy Peaks took control of team affairs, assisted by Arron Parkinson, and he gave a Diamonds debut to Russ Dunkley up-front, to partner Alfie Taylor, Fazel Koriya on the left flank (with McBride and Harris in central midfield and Wisniewski on the right), plus Jamal Clarke at centre-back alongside Jake Gillingwater (with Merrill and Brown completing the back four). Alex Deakin was still on the road to recovery, and was getting game time with the Diamonds U21 side, and Nat Liburd was serving the second of a three game ban picked up last season, so he was watching from the stand.
On the Diamonds bench was newcomer Robbie Maddox, along with Gearing, Allen and Dent, although keeper Quincy Shorunmu had encountered a shoulder problem during the warm-up, but after some treatment he took a place on the bench.
The Diamonds appeared to adjust to life at Step 5 quite quickly, with an impressive first half performance going forwards, and they took a deserved lead after 10 minutes as a Sam Brown throw reached Russ Dunkley who flicked the ball across the area to Jack Wisniewski who was alert to the chance and forced the ball home.
The main threat from the hosts was coming on the break, but after 16 minutes they were level as an angled ball from the left eluded Sam Brown and Craig Parker netted.
Russ Dunkley was impressing on his debut, and his flick across the area from another Brown throw narrowly eluded Alfie Taylor. Jack Wisniewski was causing Rangers all kind of problems with his runs down the right, linking well with Alfie Taylor, and from one of those moves Taylor saw a close range shot get blocked. Taylor then saw an overhead shot go just wide as Joe Merrill headed the ball back across the area.
Midway through the half there was concern as Russ Dunkley picked up a head wound that needed lengthy attention on two occasions, but he was able to continue.
Brad Harris had been able to get forwards several times early in the game, and he capped an impressive first half performance with a ball into space for Alfie Taylor to run on and hit a shot that was well blocked by keeper Doughty.
Half-Time: Deeping Rangers 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
The second half started with both sides threatening their opponents goal, and a Gillingwater flick-on at a Diamonds corner saw a Dunkley header blocked near the goal-line, and his follow-up go over the bar.
After 52 minutes the Diamonds pressure was rewarded with a second goal, and it was a goal of some quality. Russ Dunkley held the ball up near the left touch-line, timing a short pass to Fazel Koriya once he had slipped his marker. Koriya then timed a slide-rule pass into the path of a Sam Brown run, and he was able to slide the ball to Alfie Taylor who poked the ball home.
Russ Dunkley had impressed even more in the second period, his bandaged head standing out as he made so many flick-ons and also produced a couple of dangerous crosses from the by-line.
The hosts made two substitutions which brought them back in the game for a period, with Tom Cross doing well to cut out a one-on-one run, and both Gillingwater and Brown doing some last ditch defending.
The excellent turn-out of Diamonds fans were starting to get rather nervous until a determined Alfie Taylor won the ball back on the edge of the area, and worked the ball wide to Russ Dunkley on the left. Once again Dunkley was able to create space to dig out a ball across the six yard box, where Fazel Koriya was on hand to nod home and open his Diamonds account with 88 minutes on the clock to make it 3-1.
After the Diamonds made a couple of late substitutions, there was still time for a late consolation in the third minute of added time as Matt Heron netted from a late corner on the right.
Full-Time: Deeping Rangers 2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Wisniewski
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. James Doughty
2. Mitch Griffiths
3. Lewis Stone
4. Spencer Tinkler (Capt)
5. Simon Ashton
6. Ciaran Holt
7. Alex Beck
8. Scott Ginty
9. Ondre Odain
10. Matt Heron
11. Craig Parker
12. Tommy Treacher (for Odain 69)
14. Kevin Gilbert (for Beck 69)
15. Scott Bogusz
16. Matthew Simpson
17. Luke Wheeler
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Jake Gillingwater
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Brad Harris
9. Russ Dunkley (Capt)
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Fazel Koriya
12. Elliot Dent (for Wisniewski 90+1)
13. Quincy Shorunmu
14. Lance Allen
15. Matt Gearing (for Taylor 89)
16. Robbie Maddox
Goals: Parker (16), Heron (90+3)
Goals: Wisniewski (10), Taylor(52), Koriya(88)
Yellow Cards : Stone
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Trevor Basker
Assistants: Robert Cusick, Junior Jones-Eyre
For video highlights of this game see here.