Diamonds put in a courageous and strong display but were just edged out by Northern Premier League leaders Matlock in the Buildbase FA Trophy Third Round Qualifying.
The hosts started strong, with Paddy Casey making a crucial goal-line clearance and then striker Jerome Greaves missed his kick from close range. Diamonds had their own chances though as Ravi Shamsi headed wide, Tom Lorraine had a goal ruled out and Connor Furlong drilled over when well placed. Matlock striker Liam Hughes headed off-target twice, but the visitors merited the scoreline at the interval.
The second period began quickly too as Shamsi had a deflected effort saved, and down the other end Dean Snedker made an important save to parry Hughes’ header. The home side made a double change, and they took the lead soon afterwards when Alex Byrne showed terrific technique to lob Snedker from over 30 yards. One of the substitutes, Jesurun Uchegbulam, was denied by Snedker before then doubling the advantage after getting in behind the Diamonds defence and lofting it into the net. Hughes should have sealed the contest when he fired over, but Rushden refused to let their heads drop. After Casey was denied and Shamsi had a deflected strike fly narrowly over, they pulled one back when Shamsi hit an exquisite strike from 30 yards out that flew into the corner. They threw everything at Matlock, with substitute Diamond narrowly off-target and Alex Collard thundering a header off the post, but the hosts somehow held on to move into the next round.
Manager Peaks kept the same starting XI that had defeated Stratford on Tuesday night to end their winless run of seven matches. The only addition came on the subs bench as Ben Diamond made a welcome return to the squad following an injury he sustained against Biggleswade last Saturday.
This was arguably the toughest draw that Diamonds could have had at this stage of the competition, with Matlock sitting top of the Northern Premier League Premier Division and having won seven of their eight home league matches so far this campaign. Rushden were looking to make this third time lucky after having been eliminated from the competition at Northern Premier League sides twice before (2-0 vs Witton in 2018/19 and 4-0 vs South Shields in 2019/20).
The hosts threatened almost immediately when winger Alex Byrne got down the right, and his low effort beat the diving Dean Snedker only for Paddy Casey to clear the ball off the line. Diamonds responded quickly though as Connor Furlong was found on the left wing, and he showed good pace before floating a cross into the area. It found Ravi Shamsi completely free, but his flicked header drifted harmlessly wide of the post.
The visitors threatened again when they won a free-kick, and it was eventually recycled to Nathan Tshikuna. His curling cross from the left saw Tom Lorraine and home keeper Paul Cooper challenge, and the Rushden striker won the battle to head home into the unguarded net. However, the linesman’s flag had been raised and so the effort was ruled out.
The quick start continued when Matlock, nicknamed the Gladiators, created a gilt-edged opportunity in the 10th minute. Full-back Reece Kendall’s cross was flicked on, and striker Jerome Greaves cleverly timed his run to beat the Diamonds defence. With no-one around him and only Snedker to beat, he missed his touch as the ball ran out for a goal-kick.
Things settled down for a few moments, but the hosts continued to look dangerous when running at the Rushden defence. One such moment saw the covering Jesse Akubuine penalised for a foul on the edge of the area, though Byrne’s resulting effort was blocked by the away defensive wall. Home striker and captain Liam Hughes then rose highest from another set-piece, but his header floated wide.
Diamonds themselves were proving a threat when working the ball through the lines, and they were winning a number of free-kicks to trouble the home backline. One set-piece after 30 minutes was worked to Furlong who had time and space on the edge of the area, though his drilled effort was always rising. This came a minute after Lorraine almost robbed Cooper of possession close to his own goal.
Moments after home midfielder Mark Lees received the first yellow card of the afternoon for pulling back Tshikuna, Hughes glanced another header wide and Casey made a commanding block to deny Greaves. The away side broke again when Sam Warburton cleverly jinked forward before slipping it to Akubuine. His strike from distance was deflected behind, and the subsequent corner almost found Tshikuna through on goal only for Cooper to collect.
Aside from Akubuine receiving treatment after going down and Hughes heading off-target, the rest of the half passed without any action as the scoreline remained deadlocked at the break.
Half time: Matlock Town 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The second 45 minutes started as much of the first half had been – busy with plenty of action at both ends. Diamonds threatened first when a neat move saw Lorraine feed Casey, and he in turn found Shamsi on the right. He beat Kendall on the outside before hitting a low strike towards goal, but it was deflected straight to the keeper.
Snedker was then called into action a minute later when Byrne whipped in a cross from the right for Hughes to powerfully head goalwards. The Rushden stopper showed quick reflexes to react and parry the effort behind, with a header from the following corner also being caught. Diamonds broke, and the ever-dangerous Shamsi showed terrific acceleration to get to the byline before his low cross was cleared behind. His corner almost caught out Cooper, but he punched it away at his near post on the goal-line.
The hosts made a double change as Liam King and Jesurun Uchegbulam were introduced and, less than a minute later, they took the lead. Alex Collard headed away a long ball forward, and it dropped for Alex Byrne. There appeared no danger, but the winger showed tremendous quick-thinking to spot Snedker off his line and hit a first-time lob over the keeper and into the net from over 30 yards out.
Matlock threatened to go further clear when Uchegublam cut in from the right, beat a couple of diving Diamonds defenders and struck a fierce effort that saw Snedker pull off a brilliant instinctive save from close-range. However, two minutes later, they did extend their lead. A long-throw on the right was flicked on, and Jesurun Uchegbulam got in behind Ryan Hughes before lofting a clinical finish over Snedker.
It looked an almost impossible task for Diamonds to get back into the game, and they could have been further behind when a fortunate deflection ran into the path of Uchegbulam only for the substitute to fire over. The visitors refused to lie down though and, after Diamond replaced Tshikuna, they fashioned a good opportunity when another threatening move down the right saw Shamsi feed Casey. The full back’s low ball in was only partly cleared, and it fell back to him to strike goalwards. Cooper made a strong save down to his left to stop the defender’s first goal for the club.
The pressure continued as Shamsi drove in from the right before powerfully striking from around 30 yards out. It took a slight deflection on its way past Cooper, but it flew millimetres over the crossbar. A minute later, the Gladiators missed a glaring chance to seal the match when Uchegbulam powered away from Hughes before facing up Snedker and unselfishly laying it across to Liam Hughes. Despite a covering defender on the line, the home captain seemed odds-on to score only to fire over with the goal at his mercy.
Diamonds looked to capitalise on that let-off, and they made their final two alterations as AJ George came on for his debut and Will Jones replaced Lorraine. Ravi Shamsi was denied by a last-ditch challenge, fizzed an effort from range, but he then found the target to get Diamonds back in the match. He received a pass on the right, cut inside and slammed a bullet of a strike past the despairing dive of Cooper and into the far corner of the net.
With the match to go straight to penalties if it was level after 90 minutes, the away side sensed an equaliser and potential progression to the next round. Matlock couldn’t get out as Diamonds laid siege to the home goal, and they came mighty close to levelling. Firstly Casey got in down the right before playing a low ball across, and Diamond’s touch ran across goal rather than into the back of the net. Then pressure from a corner was maintained, and Fernando Bell-Toxtle’s inviting cross found Collard. His bullet header left Cooper rooted to the spot, but it thundered off the post and back into play. Shamsi got down the right again before standing up an inviting delivery, but Cooper just reached it ahead of the leaping Diamond to punch away.
Four minutes of additional time was signalled but, despite a barrage of crosses and set-pieces into the area, Matlock defended well to withstand the pressure and clinch the victory.
Full time: Matlock Town 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Diamonds can be very proud of their performance against a very strong opposition. Though they rode their luck at times and had Snedker to thank for some excellent saves, they worked the ball well, broke with pace and created many chances especially in the second half. Had Collard’s late header been a few centimetres to the left, Rushden would have forced penalties where anything could have happened. Matlock were left hanging on at the end and, after the recent difficult run prior to the Stratford victory, this was a display where many positives can be taken for upcoming matches.
They are back to league action in their next game as they travel to Staffordshire to face Hednesford Town on Saturday 6 November, 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Fernando Bell-Toxtle
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Akubuine, Hughes, Collard (C), Tshikuna (Diamond 64), Bell-Toxtle, Lorraine (Jones 78), Shamsi, Furlong (Geroge 74) (subs not used: Slinn, Dolman, Nixon)
Diamonds goals: Shamsi (82)
Matlock: Paul Cooper, Jamie Sharman, Reece Kendall, Ioan Evans, Ryan Qualter, Mark Lees (Liam King 56), Alex Byrne, Matt Sargent, Liam Hughes (C), Jerome Greaves (Jesurun Uchegbulam 56), Callum Chippendale (Craig King 70) (subs not used: Alex Wiles, Kayde Coppin, Shaun Rowley)
Matlock goals: Byrne (56), Uchegbulam (62)
Matlock yellows: Lees (32), Sargent (90)
Images courtesy of Hawkins Images ©2021