Diamonds won their third consecutive league match as they held on for a hard-fought victory over bottom side Hitchin.
The visitors got off to the perfect start inside two minutes when Ben Diamond volleyed home a corner, and they almost doubled their lead soon afterwards when Connor Furlong was denied. The advantage was extended when Ravi Shamsi slipped a neat ball through to Ty Deacon who clinically poked an effort past the keeper and in off the far post. Hitchin threatened with a few efforts off-target and some shots terrifically blocked, but Rushden seemed pretty comfortable at the half-time break.
That all changed ten minutes into the second half when home striker Callum Stead tricked his way into the area before seeing a shot deflected up and over Dean Snedker into the net. A number of long balls, set-pieces and long throws were then hit into the Diamonds area as the hosts pressed for an equaliser but, aside from a few routine saves and one goalmouth melee, Snedker was protected by a stoic defensive display. They could have put the game to bed a few times on the counter-attack, but in the end Rushden had done enough to seal another three points.
Manager Peaks named the same starting XI that had defeated Lowestoft in their last match, with the only alteration coming amongst the substitutes as Sam Warburton replaced the departing Tom Lorraine who had joined Daventry on Friday.
Diamonds came into the contest on the back of two consecutive home wins and having won four of their last five league games. By contrast Hitchin were bottom having only won one of their last 13 league encounters, though each of their three league wins so far this season had come at Top Field.
The visitors led with their first attack of the game. Neat link-up play between Ty Deacon and Paddy Casey saw the full-back’s cross blocked behind for a corner, and Ravi Shamsi’s inch-perfect delivery found the run of Ben Diamond who volleyed into the roof of the net for his third goal of the campaign.
They proved a threat on the counter-attack throughout the game, and one such instance in the 11th minute almost saw them double their lead. They won the ball in their defensive third before Nathan Tshikuna picked up possession and played a low pass in behind the home defence for Connor Furlong to race onto. The pacey winger ran into the box before seeing his effort parried behind by Hitchin keeper Charles Horlock.
As has been a feature of recent matches, Rushden were pressing their opponents high up the pitch. However, when the hosts were able to pass their way through they fashioned some half-chances. Firstly a corner was worked back into the middle before captain Daniel Webb fired over on the stretch, and moments later winger Matthew Moloney headed over from a right-wing cross. Lawrie Marsh then had a shot brilliantly charged down before the rebound was put wide following a ricochet in the area.
Instead, it was Diamonds who stretched their lead after 26 minutes. Shamsi picked up the ball in a pocket of space before flicking a clever through-ball in behind for Ty Deacon. The striker poked the ball past the advancing Horlock before it clipped the inside of the post and rolled into the net for his third goal in two games.
They were dealt a blow soon afterwards when defender Ryan Hughes hobbled off to be replaced by Warburton, but the visitors continued to defend strongly when called upon. Captain Alex Collard made an important block from Marsh before Casey crucially headed away at the far post from a dangerous cross. Marsh also had an effort off-target and defender Ciaren Jones powered a header wide as Hitchin struggled to seriously test Dean Snedker in the Rushden goal.
Half time: Hitchin Town 0-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Diamonds made their second change at the half-time interval as AJ George replaced Furlong. It looked as if they would start the second period in a similar vein to the first when they won a set-piece, this time a free-kick, but Shamsi’s delivery just evaded the onrushing Liam Dolman.
Ten minutes into the half, the home side halved the deficit. A ball was played into the left channel for top-scorer Callum Stead, and he twisted one way and the other before his low strike was deflected over Snedker and into the net.
Both players and fans alike were buoyed by the strike, and it changed the complexion of the game for the remaining 35 minutes as Hitchin put the Diamonds under a lot of pressure. Jones fired over from inside the area before Tshikuna, Collard and Diamond all made important interceptions to stop strikes at goal, and Stead then had a bobbling effort well held by Snedker.
In between the home attacks, Diamonds continued to look a threat on the counter and had a few chances to seal the contest. Shamsi was dispossessed at the last on two separate occasions as he was about to shoot, and he was then set free by George only to be denied by Horlock.
The most nerve-wracking it got for the visitors was ten minutes from time when a mad scramble in the area saw two efforts blocked and a couple of home players go down under pressure from Diamond and Collard, but the referee quickly waved away the appeals and Snedker could gratefully drop onto the loose ball. He was forced into action again two minutes later when substitute Rio Dasilva cut in from the left, but his curling shot was comfortably held.
Aside from a few more long balls and Stephen Cawley having an effort saved by Snedker, Diamonds saw out five minutes of stoppage time to claim the win.
Full time: Hitchin Town 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This was a game very much of two halves, with Diamonds establishing their dominance and a comfortable lead at half-time only to then be forced onto the defensive for much of the second 45 minutes. They proved an attacking threat throughout, defended terrifically in the second half especially under mounting pressure and showed excellent character to withstand everything that was thrown at them.
The result means it’s six wins from their last seven in all competitions, and it moves them up to seventh in the table. They are next in action on Saturday 11 December, 3pm kick-off, as they entertain Stratford Town at Hayden Road.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Paddy Casey
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Hughes (Warburton 30), Bell-Toxtle, Dolman, Collard (C), Tshikuna (Slinn 83), Diamond, Deacon, Shamsi, Furlong (George HT) (subs not used: Akubuine, Jones)
Diamonds goals: Diamond (2), Deacon (26)
Hitchin: Charles Horlock, Jack Green, Alex Brown, Stephen Gleeson, Daniel Webb (C), Ciaren Jones, Lawrie Marsh (Rio Dasilva 69), Lewis Barker, Callum Stead, Stephen Cawley, Matthew Moloney (Jordan Kinoshi 76) (subs not used: Daniel Akubuine, Malaki Black, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens)
Hitchin goals: Stead (55)
Hitchin yellows: Marsh (64)