AFC Rushden & Diamonds earned their name in the hat for the next round of the FA Cup draw as they held National League North side Alfreton Town to a 2-2 draw at the Impact Arena on Saturday. Diamonds took a two goal lead after half an hour courtesy of winger Joel Gyasi and striker Nabil Shariff, but the hosts pegged back to level with goals either side of half time to force a replay.
There were a number of changes from the side that lost to Beaconsfield Town last weekend. Sam Brown missed through injury, meaning Blaize Punter deputised at centre back. Callum Westwood remains injured so Ben Farrell started at right back, with Rich Bunting making his first appearance in the centre of midfield, alongside Joe Curtis. Luke Fairlamb and Joel Gyasi both make starting returns from injuries on each wing, and Claudiu Hoban started behind Nabil Shariff; replacing Chris Dillon who drops to the bench.
There were a couple of notable names in the Alfreton line up. Experienced ex-Football League midfielder Craig Disley started for the hosts; who will have played against the former incarnation of Rushden & Diamonds a number of times. Diamonds fans will also recognise the name of Craig Westcarr, who played over 100 games for Kettering Town before a spell in the Football League with a number of clubs.
The game started with the usual FA Cup flavour, with both sides playing fast paced football. The hosts tested the Diamonds defence early on with a number of crosses and headers, each resulting in nothing. On two minutes, Chris Sharp saw his header fly wide. Five minutes later, Heath dropped a cross from the right but Farrell was there to clear for a corner. The resulting cross was looped over the bar by David Shiels. A minute later, another cross from the right was headed straight into Heath’s arms; this time by Brendon Daniels.
The Diamonds then grew into the game well, and looked equal to Alfreton despite playing two divisions lower. Good work from Curtis on the 11th minute as he won the ball on the half way line before passing to Shariff to test the keeper with a long ranged effort.
On 13 minutes, Diamonds will feel like they should have taken the lead. A pass from Hoban – initially meant for Gyasi – found its way through the defence to Shariff one on one with the keeper, but the forward couldn’t add to his impressive tally this season as he dragged his shot past the far post.
However, Diamonds took the lead ten minutes later. Gyasi won the ball on the right flank before battling his way through a number of defenders into the box before lashing a powerful effort into the far corner.
Minutes later, it was Gyasi again fighting his way through the defence, this time getting tackled but the loose ball fell to Shariff on the edge of area who had a chance to turn and shoot but his effort was well blocked by the Alfreton defence.
The Diamonds doubled their lead just after half an hour. A long free kick into the box by Hoban was headed on by a defender, but Fairlamb did brilliantly to keep the ball in while hitting it across goal again, and after a failed clearance, Shariff capitalised to poke the ball in for his 11th goal in seven games.
The two goal lead didn’t last for long. Five minutes later, Alfreton pulled a goal back. Hoban conceded a soft free kick on the right wing, which was swung into the near post for Brody Robertson to tap in.
Diamonds had a good chance to regain their two goal lead on the stroke of half time. Hoban worked his way into the box well before laying off to Shariff who turned and fired his effort over.
Moments later, the ball was at the other end and Alfreton were wondering how they weren’t level. The Diamonds defence misjudged a pass which saw Robertson with the goal at his mercy, but a crucial goal saving tackle from Punter earned the visitors a 2-1 lead going into half-time.
Half-time: Alfreton Town 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
Two minutes into the second half, experienced midfielder Craig Disley headed narrowly past the near post from a corner from Brendon Daniels.
Diamonds found themselves with a dangerous free-kick on the corner of the area on 52 minutes after Priestley brought down Hoban; earning himself a booking in the process. However, Diamonds couldn’t create a chance from the free-kick and the ball was cleared.
Alfreton had their second of four bookings two minutes later, as Daniels was booked for kicking the ball away in frustration after fouling Farrell.
Former Poppies player Westcarr made an appearance on 57 minutes, replacing Sharp. Three minutes later, winger Ryan Jennings also came on, replacing Adam Smith.
Westcarr had a good chance to level the game on 67 minutes. Left back Cieron Keane whipped in a long cross from the left but the striker glanced his header just past the far post.
The hosts made their final change before Diamonds had even made their first, with loanee Ricardo German replacing goal scorer Robertson.
With 15 minutes remaining, Hoban had a good chance to extend the Diamonds lead. Curtis whipped in a corner from the left, and after Punter had headed the ball down, the Romanian turned but fired over with his right foot. A minute later, Keane was booked for Alfreton after fouling Gyasi.
Diamonds made their first change with 12 minutes remaining. Striker Tom Lorraine came on for Gyasi, who had put in a sterling effort in the game.
Into the final ten minutes, Alfreton were pushing for an equaliser. A dangerous ball in from the left was clipped by a red shirt straight into Heath’s arms. A minute later, a long free kick was hit powerfully by Daniels, forcing Heath into an awkward save. Westcarr hooked the ball back towards goal but Dolman managed to clear off the line.
But the pressure paid off for Alfreton as they drew level with seven minutes to go. A cross whipped in from the left and was met by Priestley who headed clinically past Heath.
Fernando Bell-Toxtle continued his 100% record of substitute appearances this season, coming on for Bunting on 84 minutes.
With four minutes to go, Alfreton were looking for a winner. The ball was scrambled around the box with numerous shots. A crucial block from Punter saved the Diamonds again, before Daniels ended the spell by firing inches wide. The ball was in the box again moments later, and it was great defending from Dolman as he tackled both Westcarr and German right in front of goal.
However, completely against the run of play, Diamonds should have won the game. A misjudgement from the Alfreton defender sent Shariff through on goal with no-one but the goalkeeper to beat but Chris Elliott pulled off a fantastic diving save to his right to deny the front man his 12th goal of the season.
Diamonds made their final change of the game into stoppage time with Chris Dillon replacing Shariff.
The final moments of the game were end-to-end, and either side could have nicked a win. Curtis fired over from 20 yards with plenty of space, and just seconds later,Jenningsdid the exact same at the other end. Alfreton pushed forward again, and a series of blocks saved the Diamonds from conceding at the death. German conceded a free kick, receiving a booking in the process, as the game closed out, ending in a well earned draw for Diamonds, and a replay atHayden Roadthis coming Tuesday evening.
Full-time: Alfreton Town 2-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
Man of the Match : Joel Gyasi
Match Report by Adam Benney
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Chris Elliott
2. Sam Topliss
3. Cieron Keane
4. Adam Smith
5. David Shiels
6. Billy Priestley
7. Bradley Wood
8. Craig Disley (c)
9. Chris Sharp
10. Brody Robertson
11. Brendon Daniels
12. Ryan Jennings (on for Smith, 60)
14. Craig Westcarr (on for Sharp, 57)
15. Ricardo German (on for Robertson, 67)
16. Tom Allan
17. Marcus Marshall
18. Andre Johnson
13. Ben Heath
2. Ben Farrell
3. Ben Ford
4. Blaize Punter
5. Liam Dolman
6. Richard Bunting (c)
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Nabil Shariff
10. Claudiu Hoban
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Darryl Smith
14. Tom Lorraine (on for Gyasi, 78)
16. Fernando Bell-Toxtle (on for Bunting, 84)
17. Matt Finlay
18. Chief Boateng
19. Chris Dillon (on for Shariff, 90)
Goals: Robertson (36), Priestley (83)
Goals: Gyasi (23), Shariff (31)
Yellow cards: Priestley (52), Daniels (54), Keane (76), German (90+4)
Referee: Mr Lewis Smith
Assistants: Mr Kieron Salmons
Mr Ian McGuinness
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