Diamonds gained a deserved point at league leaders Hednesford following a frenetic encounter on Saturday afternoon.
They got off to the perfect start when, after six minutes, they won a free-kick around 25 yards out. Ben Acquaye stepped up and whipped a sumptuous effort over the wall and into the top corner of the net past the rooted home keeper. The hosts almost responded immediately when a deflected shot from range saw Ben Heath readjust and somehow cling onto the ball on the line, and this end-to-end beginning was replicated for the majority of the half. Diamonds looked very dangerous on the counter with a number of quick breaks forward, and these resulted in Hicks, Acquaye and Dove having attempts blocked when well placed. Play was often stretched and contested at a terrific tempo, and Heath was required to make a brilliant double-save to keep the lead intact. He also made another save from close-range later in the half, but Diamonds defended well on the whole and made a number of important clearances and interceptions to hold the half-time lead.
The hosts began the second half on the front foot, and they dominated possession and territory in putting Diamonds under a lot of pressure. Heath made another good save and the rebound was just unable to be turned home, but Hednesford did find a leveller soon afterwards. Tom Elliott found space to clip a precise through-ball in behind the Rushden defence for full-back Samuel Griffiths to control and tap home from a few yards out. Diamonds regrouped though, and the play became end-to-end again. Acquaye had a goalbound shot blocked before Heath made two crucial saves from Elliott, and either side could have won it in a number of promising breaks and attacks. However, a winner wasn’t forthcoming, and it ended in a fair result.
Manager Peaks made three changes to the starting XI that had begun the draw at Hitchin almost two weeks ago. Zack Reynolds returned at right-back, Nat Gosnal-Tyler started on the right wing, and Tom Lorraine replaced Massiah McDonald. The Montserrat international took a place on the substitutes bench alongside Niall Cooper, Patrick Casey, Jesse Akubuine, and Jack Bowen.
The two sides took to the Keys Park pitch on a cool September afternoon. The hosts came into the contest top of the table having won their last four consecutive games, and Diamonds were sixth in the table having drawn each of their last three matches 1-1. This was the first competitive meeting between the two teams and, after the pre-match formalities had been completed, referee Matthew Scholes got the game underway.
Rushden began brightly, and they had a decent opening inside the first couple of minutes. Matthew Slinn drilled a free-kick from just before the halfway line down the right for Gosnal-Tyler to race onto, and he used his pace to just keep the ball in. He played an instant low cross into the near post, and Ryan Dove was in space. He turned and attempted a shot, but home defender Samuel Griffiths did well to get back and put the striker off as it bobbled wide of the post.
However, it didn’t take the visitors much longer to take the lead. Ben Heath launched a long drop-kick forward, and Lorraine was felled by Kieran Morris which earnt the defender a yellow card. It led to a free-kick slightly right of centre just under 30 yards out, and Ben Acquaye stepped up to drill a sumptuous free-kick over the wall and into the top corner with the keeper left rooted to the spot. It was a superb strike, and it was the midfielder’s second goal of the campaign.
It was the perfect start for the Diamonds, but they could have been pegged back moments later. A long ball forward was headed away by Alex Collard, but it only ran for home midfielder James Hurst to run onto and strike towards goal. It was initially heading towards Heath’s left before it took a nick off Jack Ashton and flew in the opposite direction. The keeper reacted brilliantly, and flung himself to his right to somehow hold onto the effort.
Minutes later, some pressure by the hosts resulted in a pass being played out to Osebi Abadaki on the left. He cut inside away from Reynolds and struck a shot towards the near post, but it drifted harmlessly wide of the mark. Diamonds responded, and a neat move saw play swept from right to left before Slinn was released down the wing. He played a low ball across the face of the area towards Lorraine, but home captain Ben Bailey slid in to win a crucial challenge and the ball was cleared out of play.
Despite Hednesford beginning to have more and more of the ball, Diamonds were looking very threatening on the counter-attack. In the 20th minute Sam Brown threaded a pinpoint pass through to Acquaye in between the home defence and midfield, and he in turn played it through to Lorraine. The striker ran into the area before seeing his shot go into the side-netting, though the offside flag had been raised.
The play was becoming very much end-to-end, and the hosts soon won a free-kick halfway inside their attacking half. The ball was whipped in towards the area by Tom Elliott, and Bailey was free to glance a header that flashed wide of the far post. Diamonds then had a number of efforts blocked from promising positions through Nathan Hicks, Acquaye and Dove as they seeked a second goal.
Instead, it was the home side who almost scored the next goal in the contest. After a dangerous Rushden break had been well defended, Hednesford broke with pace and with some away men caught up the pitch. Hurst ran towards the area before lining up a powerful shot that Heath parried away, and Enoch Andoh latched onto the rebound only to be denied by the keeper again. Ashton then hacked the loose ball away for a throw-in, and the danger was over.
Hurst had another chance a few moments later when he latched onto a free-kick, but his header dropped onto the roof of the net. Reynolds was then booked as he tried to run back and dispossess the pacey Andoh, and the ensuing free-kick flew just wide of the far post via a touch from Collard. The pressure continued, and Andoh was involved again as he was just denied a strike at goal by a stretching Collard tackle. The ball was worked back out wide, and the cross was cleared before being headed back in for Andoh to strike at goal on the turn. The effort was staright at Heath who was able to collect.
That proved to the final action of a quick and lively first half as Scholes blew the half-time whistle.
Half time: Hednesford Town 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The teams returned to the field of play following the half-time break and, following a quick count of the players, the referee got the game back underway.
The hosts started very much on the front foot as they immediately had more of the possession and territory. Four minutes into the half, Heath was required to make another good save as Elliott cleverly spun Reynolds just outside the area, feigned to shoot to buy some more space and then drove an effort towards goal. Heath parried it away, and Kieran Wells was somehow unable to get proper contact on the rebound and Brown cleared it away.
Hednesford threatened again when a high ball forward was flicked on by Wells, and it looked like it would reach Elliott through on goal only for Collard to superbly stretch to hook it away. The move continued down the left, and Andoh jinked into space before his inswinging cross was flicked by Elliott straight into the hands of Heath. Moments later there was a handball appeal against Hicks following a right-wing cross, but the referee quickly waved these calls away.
Diamonds were struggling to maintain the ball under pressure from the hosts, and another home attack saw Abadaki thread a pass inside to Reece King. He did well to step away from Brown into space, but he ended up dragging his shot wide of the far post. They were level a minute later though when Elliott was found in space in midfield, and he ran forward before spotting the run of full-back Samuel Griffiths. His clipped ball through found the defender who got to the ball just ahead of Heath, and he stabbed it into the back of the net to level the scores.
The goal came just before the hour mark, but Diamonds to their credit responded and were able to come back into the half that had been dominated by the hosts up until that point. Acquaye had a chance to run at the home defence when he sprinted down the right, and his threatening low ball in was stubbed away. Hednesford launched a counter-attack straight away, and Abadaki got away down the wing before his cross towards Wells was excellently cleared by the recovering Gosnal-Tyler.
Less than twenty minutes remained, and the hosts made a change as Danny Glover came on to replace Wells. He was involved immediately as Elliott found King who in turn found the substitute, and he neatly lobbed a ball over the away defence for the onrushing Elliott. He found himself through on goal, albeit under pressure from Brown, but his poked shot was importantly blocked away by Heath and Gosnal-Tyler was able to bring the ball away. Hurst then had a chance to shoot from around 25 yards out, but Slinn did well to get out to deflect it behind for a corner.
Peaks decided it was time for Diamonds’ first change of the match as Jack Bowen replaced the hardworking Lorraine, and he immediately put himself about in closing down his opposing men. Both sides were still pushing for a winner, and Hednesford had a chance when Abadaki accelerated down the right before crossing towards the far post where King rose highest at the far post. However, he couldn’t get over the header and it floated wide of the target.
The hosts launched a further attack a minute later, and Elliott played a clever ball in behind for Abadaki to run onto. Brown initially got back to slide and win a terrific challenge, but the ball ran kindly for Abadaki to sidefoot an effort across goal that flashed wide of the far post. Diamonds broke shortly afterwards, and they were faced with a three-on-two situation in their favour. The ball was worked from Gosnal-Tyler on the right into the path of the onrushing Hicks in the middle, and he fed it across to Acquaye. The goalscorer got a shot away at goal, but the effort was deflected wide of the post. The subsequent corner was well cleared away, and both sides continued to look for a winner.
Stoppage time passed without any real action of note, and soon the referee signalled the end of the contest as honours ended even.
Full time: Hednesford Town 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This was a thrilling contest that featured plenty of chances for both sides, but the end result was a deserved one for both sides. Diamonds began really well and took an early lead before looking threatening on the counter-attack for the rest of the half. They were required to defend as Hednesford came back into the contest and forced three good saves from Heath, and the hosts stepped this pressure up even more in the second period. They soon equalised but, despite a number of other near-misses, Diamonds regrouped and could have snatched a victory late on.
Like last season, it showed that Rushden can mix it with the best teams in the league and be a match for any of them on any given day. Though it is their fourth straight draw and though they have not won away from home since the opening day of the season, this performance was a very positive one and continues a good start to the season. Their next game sees them take on Corby Town in the Southern League Challenge Cup First Round on Tuesday evening (October 1st, 7.45pm kick-off) at Hayden Road.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ben Heath
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Daniel Platt
2. Matthias Curley
3. Samuel Griffiths
4. Ben Bailey (C)
5. Kieran Morris
6. James Hurst
7. Enoch Andoh
8. Reece King
9. Kieran Wells
10. Tom Elliott
11. Osebi Abadaki
12. Daniel Glover (for Wells 71)
14. Bradley Wells
15. Charlie Gatter
16. Billy Daniels
17. Thomas Fry (for Andoh 76)
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Jack Ashton
5. Alex Collard
6. Nat Gosnal-Tyler
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Matthew Slinn
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ryan Dove
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 77)
14. Jesse Akubuine
15. Massiah McDonald
16. Patrick Casey
17. Niall Cooper
Goals: Griffiths (54)
Goals: Acquaye (6)
Yellow cards: Morris (5)
Yellow cards: Reynolds (30)
Referee: Matthew Scholes
Assistants: Jason Roberts, Michael Day
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.