Diamonds pulled off the most incredible comeback from 2-0 down with five minutes left to win it with virtually the last kick of the game.
The visitors started well and, after home striker Andre Brown shot into the side-netting, debutant Ty Deacon had an effort well held. Nathan Tshikuna saw a curling strike tipped behind, and he then bundled in the resulting corner only for the referee to controversially disallow the goal for a foul on the keeper. The hosts, who sat just outside the play-off places coming into the contest, improved as the half went on with winger Shaquille Master having an effort parried before Alex Collard deflected the rebound behind. Defender Joshua Endall glanced a free header wide but, soon afterwards, they took the lead when Todd Parker’s deep free-kick bounced past everyone and into the net.
Rushden were almost level at the start of the second half when Ravi Shamsi’s flashing drive flew wide, and they were caught out when Brown steered home a left-wing cross to double Hednesford’s lead. They refused to let their heads drop though as they upped the pressure and forced the home side back. Substitute AJ George had an effort held and then a goalbound effort cleared behind before Shamsi hit a powerful effort that was somehow blocked on the line. The pressure told when Ryan Hughes headed home a Shamsi corner with 85 minutes on the clock, and Shamsi himself fired in the leveller three minutes later with a fizzing strike from 30 yards out. The home side should have won it in stoppage time when Andre Landell steered wide from close-range, but it was Diamonds who struck when Will Jones met Shamsi’s corner to glance in his first ever Rushden goal and to complete a thrilling turnaround.
Manager Peaks made two alterations from the starting XI that had performed excellently but who had just been edged out by Matlock last time out in the FA Trophy. Midweek signing Ty Deacon came straight into the side to replace Tom Lorraine, and Matt Slinn started in midfield at the expense of Jesse Akubuine who was suspended.
Although Diamonds had only won one of their last eight, they had won their last away league match at Stratford and were unbeaten in their last four away from Hayden Road. Hednesford sat in sixth place and hadn’t been defeated at the PRG Stadium in the league this season, but they were winless in their last three at home in all competitions.
The hosts had the opening chance after five minutes when a neat ball in behind the Diamonds defence found Andre Brown. His strike towards the near post flew into the side-netting, though some home fans thought the ball had hit the back of the net instead. The visitors responded as Deacon won a bouncing ball and, after Nathan Tshikuna’s half-volley was deflected, it ran to the striker whose left-footed strike was straight at Jonathan Brown in the home goal.
Tshikuna again threatened moments later when he picked up possession after Rushden had hassled well high up the pitch, and he ran forward before curling an effort towards the far post. It bounced just in front of Brown who did well to tip it round the post. The resulting corner from Shamsi was just parried off the line, and it ran for Tshikuna to scramble home from yards out. Referee James Lunn spotted an infringement on the keeper though, and the goal was disallowed.
Diamonds won it again high up only a minute later, but this time Tshikuna’s shot from distance was blocked. Hednesford, nicknamed the Pitmen, then began to get more of a foothold in the game and, after midfielder Aram Soleman appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty, they created a good opportunity. Winger Shaquille Master cut in from the left before hitting a powerful strike that Dean Snedker parried. The rebound rolled out to Andre Landell whose goalbound effort was diverted behind by the stretching Alex Collard.
A minute later, they fashioned another good opening as a free-kick from the right found defender Joshua Endall on his own at the back post. However, his glancing header dropped wide of the target. It didn’t take them much longer to take the lead though, and it came from another free-kick on the right. Midfielder Todd Parker drifted the delivery in towards the middle, and it went past everyone before nestling into the far corner of the goal.
Aside from Hednesford captain Courtney Richards having a free-kick charged down, there was no further action of note as the hosts held a narrow advantage at the break.
Half time: Hednesford Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Diamonds again began the second half well, and inside the first minute Paddy Casey got down the right before his inviting cross went just over the leaping Fernando Bell-Toxtle. They then won a free-kick which Collard flicked straight at the keeper, and a minute later Connor Furlong threatened down the left. His cross dropped for Tshikuna who showed good strength to hold it before the ball ran to the right side of the area and Shamsi. His right-footed effort flashed across goal but wide of the far post.
Just as it looked like the visitors were the most likely to score next, it was the Pitmen who struck just after the hour mark. A through ball in behind found the overlapping full-back Carter Lycett, and his low ball across was met by Andre Brown who clinically steered it past the helpless Snedker.
Diamonds had found themselves in the same situation last week and, just like then, they regrouped and still believed they could get a result. Peaks made a double change as Ben Diamond and AJ George replaced Tshikuna and Furlong, and the two subs combined to almost halve the deficit. A neat passing exchange saw Shamsi find Diamond who swiftly laid it into the path of George, but his curling attempt was easily claimed by Brown. He came even closer minutes later when Sam Warburton’s cross was only cleared as far as the winger. His strike looked in all the way but was cleared from close to the goal-line, and Ryan Hughes’ downward header from the following corner was hooked away.
The away side were battering on the Hednesford door, and it almost broke open in the 80th minute. Warburton’s long-throw from the right bounced over a defender and was flicked on twice for Shamsi. He was in the middle of the area with no-one around him, but his fierce strike was somehow blocked on the line by Wesley Atkinson who was winded by the effort.
Will Jones replaced the hardworking Deacon and, minutes later, Diamonds were back in it. They won a corner on the right, and Shamsi’s delivery found the towering Ryan Hughes who buried a header past the static Brown for his second league goal in as many matches.
The away bombardment continued as Hughes headed over Warburton’s cross a minute after his strike. Two minutes later though, they had an equaliser in special circumstances. After his individual blockbuster a week ago, Ravi Shamsi produced another moment of terrific quality when he drove in from the right and arrowed a 30-yard strike into the far corner to spark jubilant scenes from the travelling faithful behind the goal.
As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, five minutes of additional time was signalled and, in the third of these, Hednesford should have won it. A long ball into the area was flicked on, and it reached Landell around six yards out. His sliding effort beat Snedker but somehow went wide of the post.
Diamonds quickly won a corner down the other end which was met by Hughes, but his header floated over the bar. They then won a free-kick after George was felled, and Shamsi’s driven ball in was glanced out for a corner on the right. Time ticked into the 96th minute when the winger’s precise delivery was met by Will Jones who dramatically glanced a header past Brown’s despairing dive as it bounced into the far corner of the net. The resulting reaction amongst players, fans and coaching staff alike was total pandemonium and will never, ever be forgotten.
There was still chance for the hosts to pump one long ball forward which Slinn battered clear, and then the referee blew his whistle to call time on a frenetic, dramatic and palpitating conclusion.
Full time: Hednesford Town 2-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Diamonds have been involved in many dramatic moments and inspiring comebacks in their short history, but none to match these epic proportions. The togetherness and spirit shown by all involved to react to going two goals down away at one of the strongest sides in the division was palpable, and they refused to believe that they were beaten at any stage. After a recent seven game winless run, the response in the last three matches has been full of character and belief, something evident in the performance levels and something that bodes well for the rest of the campaign.
They take a break from league action in their next match as they host rivals Kettering Town in the NFA Hillier Cup Quarter Final on Tuesday (9 November), 7.45pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ravi Shamsi
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Slinn, Hughes, Collard (C), Tshikuna (Diamond 67), Bell-Toxtle, Deacon (Jones 82), Shamsi, Furlong (George 67) (subs not used: Lorraine, Nixon)
Diamonds goals: Hughes (85), Shamsi (88), Jones (90+6)
Diamonds yellows: Hughes (90+2)
Hednesford: Jonathan Brown, Wesley Atkinson, Carter Lycett, Joshua Endall, Lewis Ludford-Ison, Courtney Richards (C) (Reece Flanagan 76), Aram Soleman (Chay Tilt 63), Todd Parker, Andre Brown (Riley O’Sullivan 67), Andre Landell, Shaquille Master (subs not used: Kyle Rowley, Bradley Clarkson)
Hednesford goals: Parker (38), Brown (61)
Hednesford yellows: Landell (21)
Images courtesy of Hawkins Images ©2021