An opening day victory for the 2014-15 season was never quite assured for AFC Rushden and Diamonds, who beat a battling Harborough Town team 2-1 at Bowden’s Park on Tuesday night.
A team similar to that of last season for the Diamonds did enough in the first half to build up a two goal lead. Harborough came out strong after the break and scored early in the second half to put the Diamonds under pressure and forced them into defending for the majority of the second half. A single goal margin was enough for the Diamonds to claim 3 points against their Leicestershire opponents, who will be pleased with their effort against a team who finished in the top three places last season.
A warm but windy night at Bowden’s Park saw Diamonds’ Manager Andy Peaks choose a starting line up similar to that deployed last season, with many familiar faces joining Liam Dolman and Elliot Lamb-Johnson who were the only new signings to make their Diamonds’ debuts. Dolman thus becomes the 50th player to appear for the Diamonds senior side. Peaks was able to name a strong bench, which included new signings Jason Turner and Adam Confue.
The Diamonds lined up with Matt Finlay in goal, a back four consisting of Joe Henderson at right back, Liam Dolman and Arron Parkinson in the centre of defence and Jack Ashton starting on the left of the defence. Richard Bunting and Brad Harris were paired in centre midfield, with Matt Gearing and Elliot Lamb-Johnson out wide, with Fazel Koriya partnering Russ Dunkley up front.
Diamonds kicked off for the first time this season, and after just two minutes a Harborough free kick proved tame for Finlay to save. It was Diamonds who had the next chance, on eight minutes, some nice build up play from Dunkley, Koriya and Lamb-Johnson resulted in a good ball into Dunkley but his header went over the bar.
Just a minute later, a long pass from Harris, was knocked down by target man Dunkley into the path of Gearing who smashed a volley against the top left corner of the bar, only to see the offside flag already raised. An immediate Harborough counter attack culminated in a shot from distance that was easy for Finlay to smother.
After a barren spell Diamonds finally made the breakthrough, 24 minutes in. A lofted Matt Gearing corner evaded just about everyone except for Jack Ashton lurking on the edge of the 6 yard box, who unleashed a powerful strike right across the goal and into the top left hand corner to put Diamonds 1-0 up.
Harborough had a decent penalty appeal waved away in the 30th minute by the referee after their left winger was brought down under pressure from Henderson. After that, the Diamonds began a 15 minute period of relentless attacking, with all the play being in and around the Harborough penalty area. However Diamonds were unable to make that second breakthrough until the 34th minute. A neat ball by Henderson, turned the Harborough defence and found Fazel Koriya, he was allowed to turn his defender and coolly place his shot into the bottom left hand corner to but Diamonds 2-0 up.
Half Time. Harborough Town 0-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
If you had thought the away side would look to press on and see the game out, you would have been wrong, as it was Harborough that came out much better in the second half as they upped the tempo of the game and began to make use of the better possession they had in the second period. It took just over 20 minutes for Harborough to pull a goal back. 67 minutes in, a quick throw fell to a Harborough striker, Vinay Sidar, who turned and volleyed the ball home into Finlay’s net from the edge of the box to make the score 2-1. This set up for a nervy final 20 minutes for all Diamonds fans.
Despite Harborough knocking at the Diamonds door, Diamonds would get another chance on the 75th minute in bizarre circumstances. A ball into the box, not dealt with by the Harborough defence, was headed high up into the air by Dunkley. Koriya felt like he had been brought down in the six yard box, so he and the Diamonds fans claimed for a penalty. Whilst the appeals continued, the Harborough defender cleared the ball against his team mate to send the ball back into the air and ricochet off the bar. It then fell perfectly for Gearing to attempt a bicycle kick but his shot ended up looping over the bar.
The game quietened down but Harborough kept on probing and asking questions of the Diamonds defence and midfield. Although Harborough enjoyed a lot more possession during the games closing stages, they couldn’t find a way through the solid Diamonds defence, the game ended with Diamonds coming away with 3 points with the final score of 2-1.
Final Score. Harborough Town 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The management will undoubtedly be happy with the new look football on display, with players comfortably passing the ball around the field nicely. New signings Liam Dolman and Elliot Lamb-Johnson particularly impressed.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Liam Dolman
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
2. Dan Pegg
3. Mitch Bevins
4. Elliott Phillips
5. Ben Williams
6. Jamie March
7. Ricky Barby
8. Jack Burrows
9. Nick Pollard
10. Vinay Sidar
11. Jake Bettles
12. Joe Baldwin (for Bevins 77)
14. Glen Giles
15. Liam Conaghan
16. Mirko Bilic
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Henderson
3. Jack Ashton
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman
6. Aaron Parkinson (c)
7. Elliot Lamb-Johnson
8. Richard Bunting
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Fazel Koriya
11. Matt Gearing
12. Tom Lorraine (Koriya 90)
13. Rhys Redding
14. Adam Confue (Henderson 84)
15. Jason Turner (Gearing 77)
16. Sam Brown
Goals: Sidar (67)
Goals: Ashton (24), Koriya (34)
Yellow Cards: Phillips, Pollard
Yellow Cards: None
Refereee: Sam Anderson
Assistants: John Carr, Lee Hartley