Luke Fairlamb’s fantastic solo effort on the stroke of half-time wasn’t enough to overcome the challenge of higher league opposition, as AFC Rushden & Diamonds were knocked out by National League North side Alfreton Town 3-1 in the Emirates FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round replay at Hayden Road on Tuesday evening.
Fairlamb’s strike brought the Diamonds level at half-time after Thomas Allan had opened the scoring, but two second half goals from the visitors – courtesy of Brendan Daniels and Ricardo German – were enough to knock the Diamonds out of the world’s most famous competition.
Diamonds were unchanged from the side that forced the replay at the Impact Arena on Saturday. Sam Brown made his return to the squad after missing Saturday’s game through injury; starting on the bench. Alfreton fielded a stronger squad than on Saturday, with German, Ryan Jennings and Craig Westcarr all starting, while Saturday’s equalising goal scorer Priestley missed the game after receiving a knock minutes before his goal in the previous meeting.
The game started in the same vein as the opposite fixture, with Diamonds dominating most of the early stages of the game. A cross from Joel Gyasi just minutes into the match threatened the Alfreton goal, but Fairlamb just had too much to stretch to keep his volley down. However, despite much of the early possession, Diamonds couldn’t get the crucial opening goals like they did on Saturday, with clear cut chances coming few and far between.
Alfreton’s discipline continued in the same form as the game on Saturday, earning three bookings in the first half. Bradley Wood was on the receiving end of the first one, after pulling down Fairlamb on the left flank after 12 minutes.
Diamonds had their only booking of the game four minutes later, with Claudiu Hoban going in late on an Alfreton player. However, the Reds got their revenge on the Romanian when he was taken down by Allan, who also received a caution.
The visitors grew into the game as the first-half progressed, and despite having less possession, they looked more dangerous with the ball and threatened more with their attacks. On the 20th minute, German worked his way well into the Diamonds area before cutting back to Westcarr but the defence just managed to get a toe in to prevent the formerKettering man from scoring.
Westcarr threatened again on 26 minutes. A well worked corner caught Diamonds off guard, with the corner taker passing low to Westcarr on the edge of the area but his shot deflected off a crowd of players and out for another corner. This time a cross was cleared to captain Craig Disley on the edge but his first time effort was straight at Ben Heath.
Diamonds almost took the lead just before the half hour mark. Gyasi broke away at speed before laying off to Shariff. The striker cut inside on his left foot before bending a shot towards goal, and would have found the corner of the net if not for a defender’s head just blocking in time.
The home side conceded a sloppy free kick on 32 minutes, and it was from this set piece that Alfreton’s chances paid off. The impressive Daniels crossed into the box and Allan rose above everyone to head the ball past Heath.
Alfreton’s third and final booking of the game came from another foul on Hoban, this time for Cieron Keane. The hosts made an early change, with Adam Smith seemingly picking up a knock. He was replaced by Andre Johnson on 36 minutes.
Daniels threatened again with his talent for set pieces; this time bending a free kick from 35 yards into a very dangerous area in the box. The Diamonds defence struggled to clear the ball but the Alfreton players couldn’t capitalise on the home side’s reluctance to clear.
It was Daniels again who looked dangerous on 41 minutes; this time with his own shot from 18 yards cracking off the outside of the post.
However, against the run of play on the stroke of half-time, Diamonds found themselves with a lifeline. On the break, Shariff arrowed a long ball to Fairlamb on the left wing before coming inside with the ball. The Alfreton back line seemed to back off, inviting Fairlamb to run straight down the middle before lashing a fantastic shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards; giving Diamonds hope going into half-time.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Alfreton Town
Alfreton began the second half in threatening form, and almost immediately scored after kick off. German crossed from the left, finding Westcarr free in the area but he could only loop his header over the bar.
The game died down for a lot of the second half, with neither side creating many chances of note. It wasn’t until the 57th minute when the Diamonds threatened the opposition goal. It was a good move from Diamonds, starting with Gyasi cutting inside from the left wing before playing the ball to Shariff. The Diamonds top scorer then laid off to Hoban but his low shot was straight at goalkeeper Chris Elliott.
On 64 minutes, Shariff had another effort heading towards the top corner, but was denied by a top save from Elliott after great work initially from Hoban.
However, it was the visitors who will feel like they should have re-taken the lead on 71 minutes. A dangerous cross from the left wing found German unmarked on the back post but he somehow managed to hit his effort into the side netting.
Alfreton made their second change of the game, with Westcarr coming off for Chris Sharp. A huge relief for Diamonds fans as theKetteringcenturion failed to score over the two games.
The Reds were back ahead two minutes later however. Liam Dolman conceded a free kick on the right corner of the area after Andre Johnson went down, and it was danger man Daniels over the free kick. His shot completely wrong footed Heath as the winger unexpectedly aimed for the far post, and the ball fizzed straight into the top corner. A wonderful hit from Daniels, and a worthy goal to win any cup tie.
Diamonds made their only change on 78 minutes, with striker Chris Dillon replacing Joe Curtis. Alfreton substitute Sharp went off injured three minutes later, being replaced by Saturday’s first goal scorer Brody Robertson.
With five minutes remaining, Alfreton killed the tie off in peculiar fashion. Blaize Punter went to slide the ball clear, but instead of clearing the ball, it hit the approaching German and bounced into the net.
With the game seemingly over, it was Alfreton who again had the ball in the back of the net, only for the striker to be denied by the linesman as he was ruled offside as the ball rebounded to him after Heath’s saving of a previous shot.
Diamonds couldn’t peg a back a consolation, with the referee blowing the full-time whistle to confirm their exit from this year’s FA Cup. But in light of the defeat, the players can hold their heads high after putting in outstanding efforts in both games, and at times it was hard to tell which team was two leagues above the other. AFC Rushden can now concentrate back on the league, beginning with the visit of Arlesey Town to Hayden Road this coming Saturday.
Full-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-3 Alfreton Town
Man of the match: Joel Gyasi
Match Report by Adam Benney
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
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. Chris Dillon (on for Curtis, 78)
14. Tom Lorraine
15. Darryl Smith
16. Fernando Bell-Toxtle
17. Matt Finlay
18. Sam Brown
19. Chief Boateng
1. Chris Elliott
2. Cieron Keane
3. Bradley Wood
4. Adam Smith
5. David Shiels
6. Thomas Allan
7. Ryan Jennings
8. Craig Disley (c)
9. Ricardo German
10. Craig Westcarr
11. Brendan Daniels
12. Sam Topliss
14. Brody Robertson (on for Sharp, 81)
15. Andre Johnson (on for Smith, 36)
16. Christopher Sharp (on for Westcarr, 71)
17. Marcus Marshall
Goals: Fairlamb (45+1)
Goals: Allan (32), Daniels (73), German (85)
Yellow Cards: Hoban (16)
Yellow Cards: Wood (12), Allan (18), Keane (35),
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
Video highlights and post-match interviews are available here.