On a bright Saturday morning forming part of Kimbolton School’s Open Morning, an unfamiliar Diamonds Under 18 side ran out winners in a closely fought game against the School’s football team.
With Manager Mark Walsh taking the U11s Academy side in Oxford and Assistant Dean Thomas away on holiday, AFC R&D’s Northampton and District Youth Alliance U18s manager Jem Roberts took charge of the side. The youthful Diamonds line-up included only 4 regular NYSL starters with several trialists and NDYAL players filling the other starting places due to work commitments and first-team involvement ruling out a number of the team that had won convincingly at Irchester on Wednesday. The opposing bench contained a familiar face as the Kimbolton team were managed by none other than Chris Hope, who must have been feeling at least slightly conflicted about plotting how best to beat a Diamonds team.
The Diamonds kicked of facing away from the School’s Castle, which dates back to the sixteenth century, in a 3-5-2 formation with Alex Vitue in goal, a back three of Adam Ziolkowski, trialist Grant Burrows and Toby Robinson. The midfield five featured captain Luke Fathers, trialist Dan Bevis and James Pearson with Mark Rust and Blake Helsdown fulfilling wide roles in support of Matty Smith and Wes Kirkton up front. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession from early on, the Diamonds didn’t really threaten the Kimbolton defence and it was the hosts who has the early opportunities with two forays deep into the Diamonds box threatening Vitue’s goal in the opening 3 minutes of the game. In fact it took until 14 minutes for AFC to have serious attempt on goal with Burrows cutting inside on his left foot from wide and dragging a 25 yard effort just past the right hand post.
After a few missed opportunities including a free kick from Fathers and shot wide of the right hand post by Smith, the first real Diamonds effort to hit the target also yielded the opening goal as a good passing move originating in defence saw the ball played down the line for Helsdown whose low cross was touched on for Kirkton to strike low into the net from a few yards out. The hosts responded almost instantly however, as from the kick-off they broke almost immediately down the right and with the AFC defence struggling to get back, a cross from Schuret looped over Vitue and dipped under the bar for 1-1.
Undeterred, the Diamonds continued to persevere with their attractive brand of football and five minutes later were ahead once more as Mark Rust won the ball from a Kimbolton defender following a poor throw from his keeper and laid it back for Dan Bevis who struck the ball sweetly into the top left hand corner from 18 yards. The Diamonds Man-of-the-match didn’t have long to wait to add to his tally either as on 37 minutes a throw from Helsdown worked its way to Kirkton in the penalty area and his quick feet found Smith who laid the ball back for Bevis to strike the ball sweetly into the back of the net.
As time wore on and the teams began to look forward to their half-time oranges there was still time for AFC to threaten once more as a lob from the impressive Matty Smith almost caught out Bowers in the Kimbolton goal who did well while back-pedalling to tip the ball over his crossbar.
HT: Kimbolton School 1 AFC R&D 3
Half-time saw manager Roberts make a few changes as Bhatti replaced Mark Rust on the left, James H swapped with James Palmer in midfield and Tavon C came on for Toby Robinson also slotting into the centre with Luke Fathers dropping back into defence.
The second half started as a much more even affair, with both teams having opportunities to add to their score in the opening exchanges but it was Kimbolton who finally made the breakthrough on 53 minutes as the Diamonds defence failed to close down Owen in midfield, giving the striker time to shoot and lob Vitue from 25 yards out to bring the score to 2-3. Further changes were then necessary for Diamonds as Robinson came back on to replace the injured Grant Burrows on 57 minutes while on 65 Mark Rust also returned to the action in place of Kirkton with Helsdown moving up front.
There were more chances to come for Kimbolton, first as Vitue spilled the ball from a corner, but fortunately recovered quickly and next from a free kick into the AFC box which was headed towards goal and would have leveled the scores had it not been for a smart defensive header taking it wide. Diamonds were not yet done though and the energetic Smith would have been disappointed to see a header fly just wide when a Luke Fathers ball from deep found him at the far post.
With the end of the game approaching and Diamonds making a couple of final changes, Kirkton and Palmer returning to the action, the contest began to peter out and a Mark Rust corner which dropped straight into Bowers’ hands with the Kimbolton keeper unchallenged seemed to sum up the lacklustre feel of the last few minutes of the game.
FT: Kimbolton School 2 AFC R&D 3
At the final whistle the Kimbolton players gave three cheers for their opponents, a slightly unusual end to an Under 18s match for the Diamonds, their 3-2 victory being about the correct score line on the balance of play. The scholars of Kimbolton certainly showed that they are no pushovers while AFC R&D will take comfort in good performances from several debutants in the side.
Man of the Match: Dan Bevis
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
5. Wilson (Capt)
10. Chitty (on 45)
17. Kenmir (on 45)
24. Alex Vitue
4. Dan Bevis
5. Adam Ziolkowski
6. Luke Fathers (Capt)
8. Blake Helsdown
9. Toby Robinson
10. Matty Smith
12. Mark Rust
14. James Palmer
15. Wes Kirkton
16. Grant Burrows
2. James H (on 45)
3. Ryan Bhatti (on 45)
7. Tavon C (on 45)
Goals: Schuret (25), Owen (53)
Goals: Kirkton (23), Bevis (30, 37)
Bookings : None
Bookings : None