Holbeach United 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1

AFC Rushden & Diamonds snatched a last gasp draw in the battle of the top two UCL Premier clubs at a chilly Carter’s Park on Saturday afternoon.

After a nervy and well contested opening twenty minutes, Holbeach took the lead in the 24th minute through striker Jamie Clarke, with Diamonds only sporadically threatening down the other end. Despite the away side upping the tempo and monopolising much of the ball in the second half, they couldn’t find a way through until deep into stoppage time when Russ Dunkley kept his nerve to lob an effort over the Tigers stopper and send the well travelled Diamonds supporters into delirium. Adam Confue was shown the red card moments later for a second yellow card, and this was indicative of the confrontation and occasional melee that tempered much of the second period. The Diamonds ultimately left Lincolnshire being glad that they remain very much in the title hunt after the full time whistle sounded.

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks, with a range of options at his disposal, decided on a team that featured two changes from the one that defeated Sleaford Town last Saturday. Both alterations were made up front, with Russ Dunkley and new signing Tommy Berwick coming in for Scott Joseph and the injured Tom Lorraine. With Rushden lying eight points ahead of Holbeach, who had four games in hand before the start of play, Diamonds knew that a defeat may arguably end their hopes of winning promotion to Step 4 football for next season.

However, it was Holbeach who came out of the starting blocks the quickest, with the Tigers closing down the Diamonds early in possession and often forcing them into uncharacteristic mistakes. The first chance arrived in the ninth minute, but after a Matt Nolan effort was initially blocked by Liam Dolman, the ball fell for Holbeach man Danny Steadman to screw a shot wide of Matt Finlay’s goal.

Three minutes later, Adam Confue gave away a free kick on the right hand touchline, with home winger Lee Beeson whipping the kick onto the head of full back Jonathan Allen, but he could only loop the ball over the crossbar. Another set piece, this time in the form of a corner kick, found a rising Tigers captain Danny Spencer in the 16th minute, though his header was also directed over the crossbar.

The Diamonds were struggling to get any foothold in the game, and many attempted long balls into the strike pairing of Russ Dunkley and Tommy Berwick were well nullified by the Holbeach defence. The best opening that did fall their way in the opening period came when Elliot Lamb-Johnson saw a quick throw in returned to him, and his lofted cross found Dunkley who floated a header onto the roof of the net under pressure from home goalkeeper Nick Conroy.

In Holbeach’s next foray forward however, they were to take the lead. Although it seemed like the initial danger had been quelled by the Diamonds back four, the ball was laid out to Beeson by fellow winger Craig Parker, and his cross found an unmarked Jamie Clarke who saw his header brilliantly saved by Finlay, but he was on hand to bury the rebound from point blank range. Another cross from the right in the 34th minute reached Parker who had the run on Brad Harris, though thankfully for the Diamonds the header was straight at Finlay.

A quick response was not forthcoming from the away side, with all too many passes being misplaced, Holbeach being first to almost every ball dropping loose in midfield, and a worrying lack of urgency and tempo to their game. From their first corner kick of the game on 39 minutes, the ball broke to the edge of the box where Lamb-Johnson was lurking with intent, but his goalbound effort was blocked in the six-yard box.

One final chance of an equaliser before the break was created on the stroke of half-time when a long ball over the top from midfielder Neil King ran for Berwick to chase onto, and his clever footwork left him with a shooting opportunity that was well blocked by a recovering Holbeach defender.

Half Time: Holbeach United 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

After a poor first half display, Diamonds were looking to start the second half with much more incisiveness and rhythm, and they almost conjured up a leveller in the first five minutes of the half. A Confue ball down the right channel was only half blocked by Stacey Cartwright, and it ran through for Berwick to attempt a lob over Conroy which was well held by the Holbeach keeper. The Rushden front-man came even closer in the 52nd minute after Confue was fouled 30 yards from goal, but his dead-ball curled narrowly wide of Conroy’s right-hand post.

There certainly seemed to be a lot more impetus about the visitors as they began to use the ball better and more efficiently and look more of a threat in forward positions as the second half wore on.  It was Berwick again who nearly levelled proceedings when a Sam Brown long throw was flicked on to him at the back post, but just as he was about to unleash a shot, a last ditch dive from full-back Cartwright blocked the ball away to safety. Lamb-Johnson then motored down the right wing after winning possession in midfield, and his cut back seemed to be perfect for Dunkley to run onto and strike. However, he decided to dummy the ball with no white shirt waiting behind him and the chance was gone.

Many of the Diamonds’ players and fans frustrations were running high with the Holbeach players tending to go to ground easily under any form of pressure and surrounding referee Peter Howard frequently in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure that they were facing. One such instance led to Confue being booked after showing dissent to the official, and another saw a melee of around 18 players caused by a coming together between Jack Ashton and Jamie Clarke after the award of a Diamonds free kick on the edge of the Tigers box. The pair were also cautioned, and the resultant kick from Dolman was easily blocked by the defensive wall.

As the game entered the final 10 minutes, both Matt Gearing and Jason Turner were introduced from the bench in a bid to conjure up a goal, but this left the Diamonds short at the back in defensive numbers. A Holbeach second goal looked far more likely than a Diamonds equaliser at this stage, and home substitute Livodokuhle Dube almost ended the game as a contest in the 87th minute. Clarke did brilliantly to escape the attentions of Ashton and advance down the right, and his pull-back found Dube 10 yards out from goal who drew a superb reflex save from Finlay down to his left side.

The Tigers then had a goal controversially ruled out for offside two minutes later, as a corner from the right found Clarke to direct a header off the post, and the rebound from fellow substitute Gary King was deflected into the Diamonds net. Holbeach fans and management alike were up and celebrating, but the linesman’s flag curtailed their jubilation.

Eight minutes of stoppage time were to be played, and this disallowed goal proved vital in the third of these additional minutes when the Diamonds finally broke through the Holbeach backline. A long diagonal ball from Harris found Turner in front of the home defence, and he expertly flicked the ball on for Russ Dunkley to calmly lift the ball over Conroy and into the back of the Tigers goal. Cue pandemonium from the ever-vocal Diamonds band of supporters, players and management staff all around Carter’s Park.

There was another twist in the next minute of the game as Confue was given a second yellow card for halting the progress of Holbeach midfielder Jake Duffy as he advanced upon the Diamonds defence, but despite an impromptu backs to the wall effort in the remaining four minutes, the away side were able to hang on for a point as the referee signalled the end of a frenetic, dramatic and tension-filled second half.

Full Time: Holbeach United 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Despite the Diamonds playing nowhere near their maximum, they can take heart from their improved second half performance and their fight to the end which heralded them a late, dramatic leveller. How vital that Dunkley goal proves to be in the title race remains to be seen come the end of the season, though as it stands, the Diamonds still remain eight points clear of their rivals with Holbeach’s four games in hand. Andy Peaks’ side are on the road again next Saturday when they travel the shorter distance to Northampton to take on Northampton Sileby Rangers at Fernie Fields.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Ashton

Attendance: 490

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

Holbeach United

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

1. Nick Conroy

2. Jonathan Allen

3. Stacey Cartwright

4. Danny Steadman

5. Kern Miller

6. Danny Spencer (C)

7. Lee Beeson

8. Jake Duffy

9. Matt Nolan

10. Jamie Clarke

11. Craig Parker



12. Gary King (for Beeson 84)

14. Ben Brown (for Spencer 38)

15. Matt Warfield

16. Livodokuhle Dube (for Nolan 63)

17. Ollie Pinner

17. Matt Finlay

2. Brad Harris

3. Sam Brown

4. Jack Ashton

5. Liam Dolman (C)

6. Adam Confue

7. Elliot Lamb-Johnson

8. Neil King

9. Russ Dunkley

10. Tommy Berwick

11. Declan Rogers



12. Matt Gearing (for King 78)

13. Rhys Redding

14. Scott Joseph

15. Charlie Butt

16. Jason Turner (for Brown 86)

Goals: Clarke (24)

Goals: Dunkley (90+3)

Yellow Cards: Duffy (68), Clarke (82)

Yellow Cards: Lamb-Johnson (39), Confue (58 & 90+4), Ashton (81)

Red Cards: None

Red Cards: Confue (90+4)

Referee: Peter Howard

Assistants: Andrew Ford, Damon Pywell



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Photos courtesy of Media Images – Malcolm Swinden

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

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