On a sun-drenched Bank-Holiday Monday, Hillgrounds became the battle field between two talented teams who will no doubt be fighting for promotion come the end of the season. Kempston Rovers finished just one point away from the Play-Offs last year with the Diamonds having a flutter in the Play-Offs themselves, and it was indeed the visitors who opened the scoring. Joel Gyasi turned home a Darryl Smith cross to give Diamonds the lead after just 7 minutes. At that point, the Diamonds faithful may have started to believe that their side could be set for another huge win, following the 7-1 romping of Fleet on Saturday, but it wasn’t to be. Newman side-footed home Goodman’s header to equalise later in the half, and both sides were forced to settle for a point come 5pm.
Manager Andy Peaks made no amendments to the starting eleven that worked so fluidly against Fleet. Boateng partnered Shariff up top, the latter having scored 7 goals in 4 games already this season, with Joel Gyasi and Saturday’s hat-trick hero Darryl Smith supporting them from the wings. Curtis and Farrell sat in midfield as Heath had Westwood, Dolman, Brown and Ford protecting him in a back four. The only changes saw Matt Finlay and Harry Henbury give way to Kyle Swailes and Chris Dillon on the bench.
Kempston, sporting their home strip of red and white striped shirts with black shorts and socks, looked more positive in the first few minutes as they tested the Diamonds defence with a couple of crosses. But it didn’t take long for the Diamonds to force Rovers onto the back-foot, and they did it with some force. Left winger, Darryl Smith, reacted quickest to a loose ball on the edge of the box and accelerated into the area before delivering a teasing low-cross in the box. Gyasi used his speed to latch onto the pass at the back post and shoot at goal. Despite an incoming defender almost awkwardly clearing off of the line, the ball squirmed back across goal from his deflection and into the bottom corner. It wasn’t too pretty, but the work-rate of Smith and Gyasi was justly rewarded.
The visitors then had penalty appeals waved away after 11 minutes. Gyasi broke away at speed, bewildering three Rovers players with his quick feet and fed Boateng, who softly tumbled in the area under pressure from a defender.
Kempston knew going 2-0 down would be a massive blow, so they stepped up a gear as Ben Shepherd and Ash Fuller saw shots from distance blocked. After 17 minutes, Shepherd tested Heath, who could only parry his pile-driver into the path of Jake Newman, but the in-form striker who has scored 4 goals in 5 games, couldn’t finish with the goal almost gaping.
After 21 minutes, Kempston bagged an equaliser. The visitors were caught out by a threatening free-kick from the right as the ball was left to bounce in the area to the back post for Robbie Goodman to head back across goal. Hovering in the 6-yard box was Newman, who side-footed home a chance he couldn’t miss.
Understandably, AFC Rushden & Diamonds wanted an immediate response, but Boateng was flagged offside after a long-ball from the restart.
But the visitors found their flow again on 27 minutes, as Gyasi, Farrell, Shariff and Smith linked up to move the ball from right to left and win a well-earned corner. However, the resulting set-piece was cleared, and that would become a repeating theme as the match continued.
The Diamonds dominated the chances in the last 15 minutes of the first half. Smith came excruciatingly close twice in a matter of seconds, as Conway saved his goal-bound effort from a corner before he fired over the eventual re-bound from a tight angle. In the latter stages of the half, Smith had crosses cleared, Brown had long throws headed away, and Gyasi saw a header fly
over his intended target.
HT: Kempston Rovers 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Rovers made a half-time substitute with Hateley Mercer replacing Damon Herbert. But despite the fresh-legs, the Diamonds came out on top, firing crosses, corners and long-throws into the Kempston area. However, Rovers’ dominating defence in the form of Alex Stoyles, Seb Simpson and Grant Fryer passed every test.
As the Diamonds pushed for an equaliser, Kempston tried to capitalise on the break after 51 minutes, but Ash Fuller was caught marginally offside.
Minutes after, Rushden had another penalty appeal. A free-kick straight from the training ground saw the ball switched to Brown, who teed up Gyasi for a cross which may have hit a Kempston hand, but the referee gave nothing.
Just before the hour mark, the visitors had a golden opportunity to take the lead. Magical football from Boateng and Shariff left the home defence in tatters as Shariff bared down menacingly on goal. It needed a fantastic sliding tackle from a man in red and white stripes to deny Shariff of his 8th goal this season.
As Rushden continued to struggle at breaking down the home defence through set-pieces and crosses, Andy Peaks made a double substitution, bringing on Dillon and Hoban for Boateng and Smith with 67 minutes played.
Kempston then had two penalty appeals in 10 minutes. Firstly, Stoyles seemed to be unfairly bustled by two Diamonds defenders at a corner, and then Newman hit the turf after pressure from Brown, but he appeared to go down easily. The referee remained motionless on both, and he may have got them just right.
Bell-Toxtle replaced Curtis between the two penalty appeals, and Farrell was booked for an unfair challenge. After them, Shariff was denied through on goal again after Dillon’s flick-on, but by the offside flag this time.
It was almost déjà vu on 79 minutes, but with Kempston on the attack rather than the Diamonds. Newman fed Shepherd into the area, but if it wasn’t for a spectacular last-ditch tackle from Westwood, the home side would have almost certainly took the lead.
With 10 minutes remaining, Shepherd hit an almost perfect free-kick from the left. His set-piece beautifully flew over the wall and clattered the crossbar, giving the Diamonds fans a scare but giving the home fans a huge lift.
Dolman then went close with two free-kicks of his own. The first a curling effort that dipped over the wall but brushed the roof of the net, with the second being a low shot towards the bottom corner that Conway gathered, despite the ball taking a large bobble in the 6-yard area.
As the game went into injury time, Kempston were gifted a free-kick in a promising position. Shepherd floated the ball into the Diamonds area from the right, and in a flurry of red, white, dark grey and neon yellow, a header was planted just wide of Heath’s left-hand post.
FT: Kempston Rovers 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
It was set to be a close game even before the players left the dressing rooms at 3pm, and the score line would reflect that. Yet both sides could have won the game, with the Diamonds having more of the chances. But at the end of the day, it’s the Diamonds who are perched at the top of the league with a superior goal difference going into the FA Cup 1st Round Qualifiers.
Man of the match: Ben Farrell
Match report by : Matt Bates
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Martin Conway
2. George Boland
3. Seb Simpson
4. Robbie Goodman
5. Alex Stoyles
6. Grant Fryer
7. Damon Herbert
8. Ben Shepherd
9. Jake Newman
10. Sam Johnson
11. Ash Fuller (C)
12. Jamaine Ivy (on for Fuller 74’)
14. Nathan Tshikuna
15. Callum Lewis (on for Johnson 74’)
16. Kyal McNulty
17. Hateley Mercer (for Herbert 45’)
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Chief Boateng
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Darryl Smith
12. Blaize Punter
14. Kyle Swailes
15. Fernando Bell-Toxtle (on for Curtis 75’)
16. Chris Dillon (on for Boateng 67’)
17. Claudio Hoban (on for Smith 67’)
Goals: Gyasi (7’)
Goals: Newman (21’)
Yellow Card: Ben Farrell
Yellow Cards: Hateley Mercer
Referee: Mr D. Hanna
Assistants: Mr S. Bell and Mr A. Baldock-Smith
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