Duston Dynamo 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
AFC Rushden & Diamonds progressed to round three of the NFA Boys U18 Cup, but were given a real scare by a spirited Duston Dynamo side. The Diamonds controlled possession for large periods of the game and had a number of scoring opportunities, but it took two late goals to seal the victory after Duston had led for almost half of the game.
Having rested a number of first choice players for the 7-0 victory over Vicarage Farm in the previous round, Mark Starmer couldn’t afford the same luxury on this occasion, and fielded an almost full strength side. Zaak Moon was the most notable absentee as Danny Bird, Matti Ellis and Blake Helsdown all returned to the starting XI, having been sorely missed in the previous week’s heavy defeat to league leaders Cogenhoe United. Recent signing Conor Bell played his first game for the Diamonds at their home ground, although technically Duston were the home side for this fixture, but had kindly agreed to switch the tie for logistical reasons.
On a perfectly clear but very chilly evening, the home team kicked off attacking the training pitch end of the ground. It was the ‘visitors’, AFC R&D, who had the first sight at goal however, as a deep Ashley Meeks corner found the head of Jeron Thompson at the far post but the striker could only glance his header well wide.
The opening stages of the game were very cagey, as Duston were happy to soak up the Rushden pressure, with the Diamonds struggling to find a way through their resolute 4-5-1 formation. On 13 minutes another AFC corner did present Lewi Williams with a half chance, but his left footed shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty area was too high to trouble the Dynamo ‘keeper.
20 minutes had passed before either goalkeeper was called into any action of note. Blake Helsdown embarked upon his first strong run of the night, beating his marker before delivering a low cross to the near post, but Spencer Hack in the Duston goal bravely claimed the ball at the feet of the onrushing Williams. Hack quickly played the ball out allowing Dynamo to break down the left flank, and a deep cross into the Diamonds’ penalty area almost presented Josh McCullock with a scoring chance, but Rushden skipper Danny Bird just got there first and cleared behind for the home side’s first corner of the match. From that corner, the ball was quickly cleared allowing Thompson and Williams the chance to hit the Duston defence on the break, but the latter timed his run too early and was caught offside.
Rushden were now beginning to find gaps in the Dynamo’s defence, and a minute later should have taken the lead. Thompson sent Helsdown away down the right flank and the speedy winger burst into the area before firing in a shot at goal. Hack could only parry the effort with the ball falling to Williams on the edge of the 6 yard box, but with the goal at his mercy Rushden’s leading scorer somehow volleyed over the bar. A further chance fell to Williams shortly after, albeit a far more difficult one, as his shot from a tight angle found only the side netting.
Just before the half hour mark another Meeks corner from the right found the head of Bird, and his flick on was headed only just past his own post by Duston’s Ben Jones.
Presumably encouraged by the fact that they were still on level terms despite the Diamonds’ period of domination, the home team noticeably upped their game and almost got through on goal on 31 minutes. Louis Wootton raced onto a long ball over the Rushden defence and was almost through on goal, but was denied by a good recovering tackle from Danny Bird. Just two minutes later though the deadlock was broken, as Duston made the Diamonds pay for their missed chances. Ben Popeley set off on a good run down the left flank, getting to the byline before sending over a superb cross onto the head of the onrushing Tom Parker who planted an excellent header into Ashley Foulger’s bottom right corner, giving the Rushden ‘keeper no chance.
The Rushden players refused to let their heads drop, and seemed confident that they could play their way back into the game again. Three minutes after the goal and Williams again went close for the Diamonds, but was once more left frustrated. Conor Bell’s ball down the left saw Williams race through on goal, but his attempted nutmeg was well saved by Hack, and although Williams got to the loose ball first, his follow up lacked power and was comfortably saved by the Duston ‘keeper.
As the first half entered its final 5 minutes, the ever threatening Lewi Williams almost ran through on goal again, but on this occasion he was denied by an excellent last ditch tackle from Jack McLoughlin. With just a minute to go before the half time whistle, the home side registered only their second effort on target, but Will Bazeley’s free kick from inside the centre circle was comfortably saved by Foulger. In the dying seconds, Rushden’s Levi Freeman tried his luck from only slightly closer, but although he too hit the target, Hack was never troubled by the shot and gathered the ball with ease.
HT: Duston Dynamo 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The start of the second half was played in much the same way as the first, as both sides were slow to get out of the blocks. Duston should have made more from a counter attack on 50 minutes however, as they found themselves with a 3 on 1 advantage following a Rushden corner, but some sloppy passing allowed the AFC defence to recover and Wootton was forced into shooting tamely from distance.
10 minutes into the second half Williams had yet another opportunity to get his name on the score sheet. Helsdown beat Ryan Griffin and crossed to Williams on the penalty spot, but after scuffing his initial shot the Rushden striker did make a better contact with the second effort, but was denied once again by Hack who tipped the ball around the post. From the resulting corner Hack almost counteracted his good work by spilling the ball, but managed to gather it at the second attempt before the ball crossed the line.
The Diamonds were now controlling possession again as they had for much of the first half, but Dynamo still looked dangerous on the break. Just after the hour mark one such break saw Griffin hit a terrific cross towards McCullock, but the striker could only glance his header wide of Foulger’s left hand upright. Immediately after that chance, Mark Starmer made his first change of the game by replacing Matti Ellis with Louis Smith, winner of the Man of the Match award in the Diamonds’ first round tie.
On 63 minutes, Zach Farden dived into a tackle with his studs showing and, despite winning the ball, was shown a yellow card for what was a potentially dangerous challenge. The ensuing free kick was quickly cleared to Meeks who set off on a strong run down the right wing before crossing to the feet of Williams, but the striker’s scoring touch continued to desert him, as he mishit his first effort before firing over the bar at the second attempt.
The Diamonds were piling on the pressure now and created three chances in as many minutes. Firstly, a Farden cross deceived Hack and appeared to be sailing into the net, but the Dynamo ‘keeper got the merest of touches on the ball which was enough to see it fall just the wrong side of the post from a Rushden perspective. A minute later the tenacious but ultimately luckless Williams forced the Duston defence into conceding possession on the edge of their own penalty area, but as he burst through on goal the impressive Ben Jones came from nowhere to deny him with a brilliant challenge.
The third, and probably the best chance, came when Freeman played in Helsdown with a perfectly weighted through ball, who in turn beat the Dynamo left back and crossed low into the box. Hack managed to palm away the initial danger however the ball fell perfectly for Thompson, but he dwelt on it for too long allowing the defence to get back and put him under pressure, and when the shot finally came in it sailed high over the bar.
With less than 20 minutes remaining Mark Starmer decided to make a brave substitution in order to try and salvage the game. Lewi Williams made way for Adam Ziolkowski, with Starmer surprising the Rushden fans by pushing Danny Bird up front alongside Thompson. Ziolkowski took Bird’s place in the heart of the defence.
Within two minutes the Diamonds finally got back on level terms. A great ball over the Duston defence from Zach Farden allowed Jeron Thompson to burst clear, and as Hack came to close him down the striker superbly lobbed the ball over him and into the net.
The Duston bench responded by bringing on Danny Barber for Ben Popeley, and they went close to immediately retaking the lead as Bazeley hit another long range free kick, but his well struck effort just cleared the bar.
Three minutes later though, the Diamonds scored what proved to be the winning goal. Following a lengthy stoppage due to an injury to a Dynamo defender, Meeks’ right wing corner fell to Conor Bell who was tripped from behind as he tried to turn, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the penalty spot. With Williams, the regular penalty taker, having already left the field captain Danny Bird took responsibility himself and despatch an excellent spot kick into Hack’s bottom left corner.
Mark Starmer immediately reshuffled his pack, moving Bird back into his familiar centre back spot, with Ziolkowski moving into a holding midfield position and Freeman pushing up alongside Thompson. With 10 minutes remaining, Freeman almost took full advantage of his more advanced role, latching onto a throw into the penalty area, before aiming a shot at the near post which was saved by the feet of Hack.
Rushden were not happy to just sit back and defend their one goal lead, and on three occasions should have made the game safe. A quick break following a Dynamo attack saw Freeman and Thompson burst through with just one defender between them and the goal. Freeman unselfishly squared to his strike partner, but Thompson took too long to get in a shot allowing the defence to recover and clear the danger.
Freeman was again the provider 4 minutes later, when his exquisite through ball allowed Helsdown to run through with just Hack to beat, but he snatched at the shot and dragged it well wide. From the subsequent goal kick, Bird cleared the ball back over the Duston defence allowing Freeman himself the chance to seal the victory, but his shot was too close to Hack who made another good save.
With just 2 minutes remaining Dynamo almost made the Diamonds pay for their profligacy in front of goal. No one in orange deserved a goal more than Ben Jones and his glancing header from a right wing corner looked destined for the net, but he was denied on the line by the head of Zach Farden.
Rushden immediately countered and Farden’s long ball almost presented Bell with a chance to open his Diamonds account, but the midfielder couldn’t get the ball under control in the Duston penalty area.
Almost 4 minutes of injury time followed, but the AFC defence held tight and there was an air of great relief from the Rushden contingent when the final whistle eventually sounded.
FT: Duston Dynamo 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
After the game, Mark Starmer acknowledged that cup football is all about progressing to the next round, but admitted that he was concerned by the number of chances his side had missed.
The team will now prepare for next Thursday’s home match against a Northampton Spencer side who had started the season poorly, but appear to have improved in recent weeks.
Man of the Match: Danny Bird
Photographs courtesy of Mal Swinden
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|1. Spencer Hack
2. Billy Gamble
8. Tom Parker
39. Will Bazeley
17. Ryan Griffin (c)
7. Sean Hedderman
5. Ben Jones
88. Jack McLoughlin
15. Louis Wootton
9. Ben Popeley
10. Josh McCullock
|86. Ashley Foulger
2. Ashley Meeks
4. Elliot Ames
5. Danny Bird (c)
3. Zach Farden
7. Blake Helsdown
9. Levi Freeman
16. Conor Bell
12. Matti Ellis
10. Jeron Thompson
11. Lewi Williams
3. Danny Barber (for Ben Popeley, 74)
11. Aaron Pinney (for Billy Gamble, 77)
12. Xhamil Tocila
13. Shane Line
19. Jack Mattock (for Sean Hedderman, 58)
6. Alex McDonald
14. Ryan Ellmer
15. Adam Ziokowski (for Lewi Williams, 71)
18. Brad Mellows
19. Louis Smith (for Matti Ellis, 61)
Parker (33 mins)
Thompson (73 mins)
Bird (78 mins, pen)
Farden (63 mins, foul)