After their long break AFC Rushden & Diamonds returned to action with a 3-1 victory over Holbeach United at Carter’s Park. Their lacklustre start to 2014 had meant extra pressure for this game, but two early goals from Matt Gearing, the second a penalty, meant that the Diamonds controlled the game from the outset, and an Alfie Taylor goal in the second half sealed the result. A late consolation for the Tigers came after an enforced defensive reshuffle for the visitors.
The result moves the Diamonds back into second place in the UCL Premier League table. The Diamonds made three changes to the line-up that had started against St Andrews, with Matt Finlay making his Diamonds debut in goal, the suspended Jamal Clarke being replaced by Joe Henderson and Aaron King taking the place of Brad Harris. Richard Bunting returned from injury to take a place on the bench.
It was important the Diamonds made a good start in their first away game of 2014, especially after the long break that had followed the St Andrews defeat. They delivered what was required straight from kick-off, with Alfie Taylor getting forward to fire a shot that was deflected for a corner. Russ Dunkley linked with Greg Ling on the left with two minutes gone, taking a return pass before hitting a rather miscued shot that looked to be heading out for a goalkick to the right of goal, only for Matt Gearing to ghost in at the far post to fire home the Diamonds opener.
That early lead might have been extended after 9 minutes when a throw-in on the right was back-headed by Dunkley into the path of Greg Ling who saw his shot saved by Overton. Aaron King was getting forwards well, and he appeared to be pushed in the back as he tried to get on the end of a Ling cross, but before the penalty claims had died down they became irrelevant as the Russ Dunkley follow-up shot was beaten away by the raised arms of defender Warfield, and referee Reeson awarded the spot-kick. Matt Gearing confidently fired home the penalty.
The hosts did start to get into the game, but struggled to produce a save from debutant Finlay – with the impressive Matt Gearing showing the determination to make diagonal runs to support his defenders. Russ Dunkley was having another excellent game, giving the home defence plenty of problems, and after being hauled down with what appeared to be a wrestling hold by Ian Dunn he won his side a free kick. Although Dunkley then appeared to turn his marker as Joe Henderson pumped the free kick into the box, before heading home, the offside flag was raised.
Just before the break Gearing had a chance to seal a first-half hat-trick as he picked up a pass from Aaron King before cutting inside to hit an angled shot that was cleared off the line.
Half-Time: Holbeach United 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
An early chance had fallen to Aaron King after a precision pass from Joe Merrill dissected the home defence, but after their dominant first half performance the Diamonds allowed the tempo to drop somewhat in the second period. The hosts were happy to slow the game by debating decisions with referee Reeson as well as delaying any free-kicks that the Diamonds wanted to take quickly to keep the game moving.
There was even the unusual sight of a winning team making two substitutions whilst play was stopped for an injury as the Diamonds tried to raise the tempo. They brought on Richard Bunting and Fazel Koriya to increase their attacking threat.
After 81 minutes the Diamonds were rewarded for their positive approach as another forward run by Aaron King saw him find Koriya on the left, and he crossed the ball into the path of Alfie Taylor who confidently fired home.
Sam Brown had to leave the action to be replaced for one of the rare times in his Diamonds career, but before the Diamonds defence had adjusted to moving Merrill to the left and bringing Alex Deakin into right back they had conceded a goal, as the Tigers broke down the right and Fraser Bayliss fired home.
The Diamonds then had several chance to restore their three goal lead with a Dunkley header looping over Overton before being headed off the line, following a succession of dummies from King and Koriya appearing to fool themselves as well as the home defence.
Full-Time: Holbeach United 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3
Diamonds Man of the Match: Joe Hendersom
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Leigh Overton
2. Ryan Leggett
3. Matthew Warfield (Capt)
4. Lewis Sturman
5. Ash Murrell
6. Ian Dunn
7. Adam Rothery
8. James Reed
9. Tom Waumsley
10. Tommy Treacher
11. Fraser Bayliss
12. Niall Delahoy (for Leggett 75)
14. Luke Hollingworth (for Rothery 63)
15. Nick Bishop
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Joe Henderson
6. Arron Parkinson (Capt)
7. Matt Gearing
8. Aaron King
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Greg Ling
12. Alex Deakin (for Brown 80)
13. Adam Whybrow(GK)
14. Fazel Koriya (for Ling 70)
15. Richard Bunting (for McBride 70)
16. Brad Harris
Goal: Bayliss 83
Goals: Gearing (2/13p), Taylor 81
Yellow Cards: Sturman, Dunn
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Christopher Reeson
Assistants: Michael Dunkley, Andrew Ford
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.