Eynesbury Rovers 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2

AFC Rushden & Diamonds secured a dramatic, last gasp win over hosts Eynesbury Rovers in the UCL Premier on Saturday afternoon. 

After a bright and lively opening, the visitors took the lead midway through the first half when a Diamonds corner was flicked into his own net by home defender Cameron Clark. Eynesbury regrouped at the interval and looked the more enterprising and dangerous side in the second period, and Lee Bassett’s goal five minutes from time looked to have put a dent in the Diamonds’ title challenge. However, a late, late foul on striker Russ Dunkley gave Rushden a penalty which Matt Gearing placed into the corner of the net to send the Diamonds fans into raptures, and keep them in firm control at the top of the division. 

On a mainly sunny but blustery day at the Alfred Hall Memorial Ground, Diamonds manager Andy Peaks named one change to the side that had comprehensively defeated Desborough and Huntingdon in the previous two fixtures. Charlie But came into the starting 11 in place of Adam Confue, which meant Brad Harris stepped forward into the centre midfield berth alongside captain Richard Bunting. 

The game kicked off with many fans wondering if the visitors would be able to replicate their form of the last two weeks, and they were almost off to a flying start. In the third minute, a Declan Rogers corner from the right found Liam Dolman who saw a flicked header blocked on the goal line. The ball rebounded out, and in the midst of a goalmouth scramble, Matt Gearing saw a further effort blocked, with Bunting’s strike from the edge of the area being deflected narrowly over.   

Bunting was again involved moments later as he won the ball in midfield after some strong and courageous play, but after he fed Rogers on the left hand side, the Rushden winger could only slam his attempted effort over the goal from 25 yards. 

The Diamonds had started the game with a sense of urgency and a quick tempo, and a golden chance presented itself in the 14th minute. A quick Sam Brown throw midway inside the Eynesbury half found Dunkley who flicked the ball across the edge of the box for Matt Gearing to latch onto. The number 7 was given time and space to jink and move forward, but his effort was straight at the home goalkeeper Jamie Chamberlain. 

Diamonds set pieces had proved to be very important in the recent away wins at Deeping and Desborough, and with a strong wind in their favour for the first half, the away side were causing problems with these in the opening half hour. Another corner, this time from the left touchline, found Jack Ashton rising at the back post, with his header being blocked behind amidst strong appeals for handball against an Eynesbury defender. 

The hosts had not represented much of a threat going forward at this stage of the game, but they reminded Rushden of their threat just after the 20 minute mark. A quick break down the left saw the ball fed into striker Bassett, and after holding off Butt and advancing into the penalty area, his left footed effort kissed the crossbar and fell to safety much to the Diamonds relief. 

Play swung back down the other end, and another Sam Brown long throw found the head of Dolman whose header was well tipped over the goal by Chamberlain. From the resulting corner though, the Diamonds did eventually take the lead. Gearing’s delivery was aimed at the near post, and Eynesbury full-back Cameron Clark could only help the ball on into his own net in an effort to clear his lines. 

Rushden still remained on the front foot following that breakthrough, and yet another corner from Rogers caused further confusion and unrest amongst the home defence, but the ball was somehow deflected just wide of the left-hand post on that occasion. The winger was looking dangerous and inventive with the ball at his feet, and he was again involved in winning a free-kick on the edge of the box in the 33rd minute. Gearing stepped up and curled his attempt inches wide of the far post with Chamberlain remaining rooted to the spot. 

There remained one last chance for the Diamonds to double their advantage prior to the interval, and this arrived in the 42nd minute. The ball found its way to Rogers on the left touchline, and his drilled cross into the middle was met by Dunkley on the run. The effort went straight at the keeper, and although the ball initially ran loose, it was eventually collected by Chamberlain. Protests for a penalty were heard behind the goal as Dunkley battled for the loose ball, but they were waved away by referee Craig Druce. 

Half Time: Eynesbury Rovers 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

With the Diamonds now being forced to play into the wind during the second half, the opening exchanges were predictably scrappy and unsettled. The visitors struggled to feed the ball into the midfield and tended to favour the long ball forward over the top, which led to Eynesbury enjoying more possession and coming more into the game as the half progressed. Chances were at a premium, with Robert Ducket flashing a half-volley over the top on the hour mark, and Diamonds responding in turn with Bunting seeing an effort well blocked after winning the ball through some archetypal harrying.

Rovers were benefitting from their slight alteration in formation at the break to a 4-4-3, which was allowing Alexander Marsh and Jordan Nicholson to have more of an impact in the game. It was Nicholson who nearly levelled the game for the hosts, but after picking up the ball some 25 yards out from goal, his left footed effort was superbly parried away from danger by Matt Finlay.

As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Diamonds were clearly playing well within themselves and not creating a huge amount going forward, whilst still being relatively comfortable down the other end despite a couple of nervy moments. In the 75th minute, a long ball forward from Finlay was inadvertently flicked on by a home defender into the path of Diamonds striker Tommy Berwick, and his attempted half-volley as he ran onto the ball dropped just over Chamberlain’s crossbar.

1-0 is always known to be a very dangerous scoreline however, and this was close to being proved one minute later. A Dolman header clear only found midfielder Thomas Coles in space, and he drilled the ball across goal finding Marsh in oceans of space. Despite vehement appeals for offside, the linesman’s flag stayed down, and it took some superb last-ditch defending from Jack Ashton to stop Marsh unleashing a strike at goal and to quell the threat of the situation.  

Soon after Tommy Berwick was replaced by Tom Lorraine, and he almost added to the visitors’ lead within minutes of his introduction. Bunting played a ball into Dunkley who flicked the ball into Lorraine’s path, but Chamberlain was quick off his line to block the Diamonds’ striker’s shot as he advanced clear on goal. Dunkley himself went close to extending the away side’s advantage when Harris clipped a ball into his path at the far post, with his fizzing drive flashing right across the face of goal and wide of the mark.

These missed chances were rued even further when Eynesbury grabbed a leveller five minutes from the end of normal time. Nicholson received the ball just outside the penalty area, and he was able to stab the ball into the path of striker Lee Bassett on the left side of the box, He stepped inside returning Diamonds full back Joe Merrill and curled a glorious effort into the top right corner of the net which left Finlay with no chance.

With the news filtering through that Wisbech had taken the lead in their league game, Rushden knew they had to step up a gear in their attempts to grab a winner. It looked like they had that goal in the 88th minute when a sustained period of pressure saw Bunting feed the ball into Gearing, but after cutting inside his marker onto his left foot, his curling effort was agonisingly millimetres wide of the far post.

Eynesbury were still proving to be a threat though, and after winning a free kick just inside their own half, the ball was played to the back post where defender Darren Woodend rose highest to power a header goalwards. Finlay produced a stunning save to his left-hand side, and the ball was then somehow hacked away from the danger zone by Dolman.

That save proved to be absolutely vital in the third minute of added time when the Diamonds won a penalty. After a corner was initially cleared, it appeared that Eynesbury would be able to counter attack in a two on two situation, but the ball was overran and Merrill stepped in to pump the ball downfield. Dunkley read the ball forward expertly and raced to meet the high, hanging ball, but Chamberlain flew in and clattered the Diamond’s striker in the back. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, and after a wait, Matt Gearing stepped up to place the ball into the bottom right corner despite the Eynesbury stopper getting a good hand to the effort.

Joyous and pandemonium-like scenes were visible right around Hall Road as the visiting fans realised the sheer importance of that goal, and after a further couple of additional minutes, the whistle was blown on a frenetic and pulsating ending to the game.

Full Time: Eynesbury Rovers 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

This game represented another hugely important and vital three points for the Diamonds in their title efforts, and although the standard of performance was not up to the heights set by the last two fixtures, Andy Peaks will be more than pleased to emerge from another ‘cup final’ with the maximum reward. Rushden have now recorded five wins on the bounce, and they remain four points clear of Wisbech in second, who have a game in hand, after they emerged victorious over Newport Pagnell. Attention turns to the United Counties League Knock-out Cup on Tuesday night when Diamonds travel to Yaxley, before returning to league action next Saturday when they face Huntingdon Town at home.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Ashton

Attendance: 450

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer


Eynesbury Rovers

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

1. Jamie Chamberlain

2. Cameron Clark

3. Macaulay Clark

4. Daniel Woodhead

5. Darren Woodend

6. Robert Ducket

7. Thomas Coles (C)

8. Stephen Smith

9. Lee Bassett

10. Alexander Marsh

11. Jordan Nicholson



12. Luca Dusi (for C. Clark 74)

14. Ryan Inskip

15. Christopher Stericki

16. Nathan George

17. Ryan Wood

17. Matt Finlay

2. Charlie Butt

3. Sam Brown

4. Jack Ashton

5. Liam Dolman

6. Brad Harris

7. Matt Gearing

8. Richard Bunting (C)

9. Russ Dunkley

10. Tommy Berwick

11. Declan Rogers



12. Tom Lorraine (for Berwick 77)

13. Rhys Redding

14. Jason Turner

15. Elliot Lamb-Johnson

16. Joe Merrill (for Butt 67)

Goals: Bassett (85)

Goals: Clark og (24), Gearing pen (90+3)

Yellow Cards: Bassett (66), Woodhead (90+2)

Yellow Cards: None

Referee: Craig Druce

Assistants: Robert Cusick, John Hedge




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