Egham Town 2-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Two second-half penalties consigned AFC Rushden & Diamonds to defeat at second-placed Egham, but they still had a play-off place confirmed, on Tuesday evening.

The first half was very even, with Diamonds front-man Jon Stevenson seeing a close-range effort brilliantly blocked and Claudiu Hoban forced a fingertip save from Egham goalkeeper Jamie Norris. The hosts threatened themselves as midfielder Elliot Carey saw a deflected effort brilliantly saved by Finlay to his left-hand side, but at the half-time break the score remained goalless. 

The Sarnies took the lead four minutes into the second half after Dolman felled Carey on the right side of the penalty area, and left-winger Bajram Pashaj confidently stroked home the resultant kick. Aside from a Jack Bowen shot across goal and a Liam Dolman effort that drifted wide the Diamonds struggled to create opportunities in the second period. Egham defended strongly whilst representing a threat on the counter-attack, and five minutes into stoppage time they earnt another penalty as Jack Ashton brought down Egham substitute Brendan Matthew. The hosts’ top-scorer picked himself up to dispatch the penalty beyond Finlay, but due to St Ives’ victory at Aylesbury, Diamonds were confirmed a place in the Southern League Division One Central play-offs.

With the original fixture falling foul of the wet weather on Saturday, Diamonds manager Andy Peaks named an unchanged starting XI to the one that had comprehensively defeated Barton Rovers last Tuesday. The only alterations came on the substitutes bench where Alex Vitue and Tom Manship replaced Tom Liversedge and James Jepson. 

There was a buzz of excitement around the Runnymede Stadium with the second-placed hosts still harbouring ambitions of winning the title, and Diamonds searching for the point that would confirm their place in the end-of-season play-offs. 

The opening five minutes of the contest were uneventful as both teams looked to gain a foothold in the game. Egham had the opening opportunity in the 8th minute when the ball was worked to winger Ollie Jones on the edge of the box, but his weak shot was an easy save for Matt Finlay. A minute later Diamonds created a chance themselves as Jon Stevenson collected a Jason Lee cross, turned and curled an effort that was deflected behind for a corner kick. 

Stevenson was involved again in the 11th minute as strike-partner Jack Bowen flicked the ball on for the Diamonds number 8, and he in turn lofted the ball over a covering defender for the marauding Lewis Leslie. He was tackled but the loose ball dropped for Stevenson to fire in a fierce half-volley which was again superbly blocked. 

Leslie was looking bright and lively in these opening stages with his supporting runs from midfield, and one venture led to him crossing the ball to Bowen. He, however, was slightly taken by surprise which led to a heavy chest-down and a clearance upfield from the hosts. One minute afterwards Claudiu Hoban picked up possession out on the right flank, and after darting inside an Egham challenge he hit a bobbling effort towards the far corner of the goal which required a diving save by keeper Jamie Norris.

Egham, nicknamed The Sarnies, then went very close themselves in the 18th minute. A free-kick just inside the Diamonds’ half was pitched into the box, and though Liam Dolman’s clearing header was commanding, it only fell for home midfielder Elliot Carey on the edge of the area. He smacked a shot at goal, and despite it taking a big deflection Finlay reacted brilliantly and flung himself to his left-hand side to parry the ball out for a corner. 

Stevenson was showing some nice touches and strong link-up play in the opening stages, and he had another chance when a Connor Kennedy long-throw fell at his feet, but the subsequent shot was again blocked away. In the next attack the diminutive ex-Oadby man then laid off to Leslie on the edge of the box, though the midfielder’s effort slashed harmlessly wide of the far post.

Although clear-cut opportunities were at a minimum there was a flurry of half-chances as the game passed the 25 minute mark. The ball dropped to Egham’s Carey on the edge of the Diamonds box after a break forward, but his shot on the turn was struck at a slow pace and represented a simple save for Finlay. Two minutes afterwards the dangerous Stevenson showed quick feet in the penalty area to jink into space, and his left-footed curling shot drifted straight into the keeper’s chest.

This was to be the striker’s last action in the contest as he went down shortly after mid-way in the Sarnies’ half, and despite treatment he was unable to play a further part in the contest. Shawn Richards replaced him, and slotted into the number 10 position directly behind Bowen. The two were swiftly involved as a quick break saw Bowen feed the ball out to the substitute who was in acres of space down the right flank, but unfortunately his cross towards the near post struck the side-netting.

The general pattern of the game was now very end-to-end as both sides aimed to seize the initiative, with both sets of attackers looking dangerous whenever they were in possession. In the 39th minute the hosts’ left-winger Bajram Pashaj jinked his way to the left byline and clipped a cross into the box, and though it was headed away, it only fell for Carey whose volley cleared the crossbar. Play again swept up the other end of the pitch, with the ball sitting up nicely for Brad Harris to drill a shot wide from 25 yards out.

There remained one final opportunity before the half-time whistle blew, and it fell for the visitors. Kennedy played the ball back to Harris on the right wing, and his first-time cross seemed to be perfect for the advancing Leslie to meet. Unfortunately for Rushden though the delivery bounced up high on the hard surface, and as a result Leslie could only loop a weak header straight into Norris’ arms.

Half Time: Egham Town 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

The second period got underway with the game very much still in the balance. Egham knew they had to win to keep the pressure on league leaders Kings Langley, and it was they who forged ahead with their first chance of the half. A neat, slipped ball down the right side of the box found Carey, and as he tried to run past Dolman there was a coming together which saw the Egham man go down and the referee Peter Killip award a penalty. Bajram Pashaj stepped up and tucked the ball to Finlay’s left, with the keeper guessing to go the other side.

The Diamonds struggled in the way of a quick riposte, as the home side worked tirelessly in midfield and defence to close down their opposing numbers. The only opportunity the away side could create came on the hour mark when Kennedy’s cross from the right found Bowen, but his stubbed effort under pressure rolled safely to the goalkeeper.

The Sarnies then made a double substitution, with Chris Henry and top-scorer Brendan Matthew entering the field of play. These two changes gave Egham an injection of pace especially on the counter-attack, and it was Matthew who flicked a header just wide of the far post after a searching cross from the right wing.

For a brief spell Rushden were galvanised into action, and a couple of surging runs from full-back Kennedy seemed to raise the tempo of the visitors’ play. It was a cross from the on-loan Corby man which found its way to Leslie, and but for a slightly sharper touch the midfielder would have had a clear sight of goal. Another Kennedy cross, this time a deeper one,  shortly after found a rising Bowen, but the Egham defence did well again to block the attempt behind for a corner.

Much of Diamonds’ creative force was coming down the right side, and in the 75th minute Andy Hall fed the ball to Bowen down the channel whose shot across goal fell just behind the supporting Leslie. Though he tried to quickly adjust his feet, he was unable to and the ball was cleared upfield.

Despite this period of Rushden pressure, the hosts still remained a dangerous threat down the other end. A pacey and direct run to the left byline by substitute Henry saw his flashing cross be glanced away importantly by Lee before it could reach another red shirt. Dan Quigley was brought on in place of Hoban for the visitors as they pushed more men forward in search of the equaliser that would definitely confirm their place in the play-offs. One such example saw Dolman stay forward for a couple of minutes, and after Harris’ header found Bowen and his chest-down fell to the centre-back, Dolman’s subsequent shot went wide of the left post.

As the game entered stoppage time there was a brief flare-up following a Kennedy challenge on Henry, and after some pushing and shoving the referee issued a yellow card to the Diamonds player. Although the away side won a couple of free-kicks, Egham dealt with them relatively easily, and it was they who were to extend their lead in the fifth added minute at the end of normal time. A quick ball by Lee next to the corner flag attempted to find Ashton, but the defender was slightly caught unaware. Brendan Matthew nipped in and as Ashton stretched to win the ball, he brought down the substitute for a clear penalty. Matthew seized the ball and rolled the kick past Finlay into the bottom right corner to seal the victory for the hosts.

The final whistle was blown shortly afterwards to consign Diamonds to their fifth away defeat in their last seven games, but St Ives’ victory meant that Rushden were guaranteed a place in the end-of-season play-offs despite the loss.

Full Time: Egham Town 2-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Although this represented a disappointing result for the Diamonds, positives can be taken from the first-half performance and in particular the displays of Jon Stevenson and Lewis Leslie. On the balance of play Egham deserved their victory, and the victory keeps their hopes of lifting the Southern League Division One Central title alive. Rushden now cannot finish higher than fourth position meaning that they will play their play-off semi-final next Tuesday or Wednesday away from the Dog & Duck, though their opponent will not be confirmed until after Saturday’s last round of regular league fixtures. The Diamonds entertain ninth-placed Godalming Town on Saturday afternoon knowing a victory, coupled with a draw or defeat for St Ives at already relegated North Greenford, will secure them fourth place.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Matt Finlay

Attendance: 247

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

Egham Town

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

1. Jamie Norris

2. Hussan Sulaiman

3. Ryan Parsons

4. Reece Yorke

5. Luke Neville (C)

6. Kurtney Brooks

7. Ollie Jones

8. Elliot Carey

9. Chris Moore

10. Goldy Capela

11. Bajram Pashaj



12. Ryan Phillips (for Jones 86)

14. Callum Webb

15. Brendan Matthew (for Pashaj 62)

16. Romaine Walker

17. Chris Henry (for Capela 62)

17. Matt Finlay

2. Connor Kennedy

3. Jason Lee

4. Jack Ashton

5. Liam Dolman (C)

6. Brad Harris

7. Andy Hall

8. Jon Stevenson

9. Lewis Leslie

10. Jack Bowen

11. Claudiu Hoban



12. Shawn Richards (for Stevenson 33)

13. Alex Vitue

14. Robbie Parsons

15. Dan Quigley (for Hoban 80)

16. Tom Manship

Goals: Pashaj (pen 49), Matthew (pen 90+5)

Goals: None

Yellow Cards: None

Yellow Cards: Bowen (56), Kennedy (90+1), Ashton (90+5)

Referee: Peter Killip

Assistants: James Harding, Michael Coen


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