A 76th minute Lewis Leslie header from a Richard Bunting corner won Diamonds a hard fought first victory in 4 games against Lincoln United on Tuesday night.
A dramatic build up to the game saw Diamonds players and team coach held up after a terrible accident in the Wellingborough area that threatened the fixture all together. Officials were able to negotiate with the league, the referee and Lincoln United to allow a delayed 8.15 kick-off with the coach arriving at 7.45.
The game was even in the first 10 minutes but Lincoln gradually got on top and played with the attacking style they had in previous games forcing Diamonds to defend strongly. Kallum Smith, Jordan Hempenstall and Sean Wright all created half-chances but the early goal from previous encounters didn’t come. Diamonds worked their way into the game with the 4-3-3 formation starting to gain midfield possession and half-chances of their own. Jake Newman came closest with a fierce strike from the edge of the box that forced the home keeper into a full length diving save.
Goalless at half-time the pattern of Lincoln dominating possession and Diamonds hitting on the break resumed with the home side neat short passing around the area putting Dolman, Winters, Brown and McNulty under severe pressure, McNulty in particular working hard on the right hand-side supported well by Fazel Koriya. After an attacking substitution introducing Taylor Orosz fresh legs Diamonds pressed well in the last 20 minutes and got their reward. A brilliant break by Richard Bunting found Fazel Koriya who crossed to the far post where the sprinting Taylor Orosz was denied a tap-in. The resultant corner whipped along the six yard box was headed home by Lewis Leslie to the delight of the travelling fans behind the goal.
Diamonds managed the final 10 minutes in some comfort against dangerous opponents to earn yet another away victory, extend the unbeaten run to 17 and move into the play-off places and 5th in the league. A satisfying nights work after such a dramatic start.
After the drama of the journey and the limited warm-up time Manager Andy Peaks picked a similar strong looking 4-3-3 line-up to the previous game at Shaw Lane. Fazel Koriya returned to the side after his suspension in place of the not available Tom Lorraine. Ben Farrell held the defensive midfield position along with Richard Bunting with Lewis Leslie a little further forward in behind the front three of Jake Newman, Nabil Shariff and Fazel Koriya. Kyal McNulty held onto the right-back berth alongside Rory Winters, Liam Dolman and Sam Brown.
On a chilly and getting chillier evening the early stages were evenly contested with little in the way of goalmouth action. Nabil Shariff closed down a bouncing ball for Diamonds nearly nicking it from the advancing keeper and Jordan Hempenstall shot straight at Matt Finlay after a mazy run.
Jake Newman was all energy and purpose for Diamonds and he did create a half-chance on 10, winning the ball just outside the box, running along the 18 yard line and firing hard and low towards the bottom left corner forcing a full length diving save from the home keeper.
Lincoln were starting to move the ball well though and play the kind of attacking football that had won them the home FA Trophy replay between these sides and 4 goals in two draws at the Dog & Duck. A flowing move won a corner that Sean wright headed just over, Kallum Smith worked his way into a good shooting chance only to fire across goal, and Rory Winters and Liam Dolman made important interceptions as tricky play nearly worked Lincoln forwards into the box a number of times.
The whole Diamonds side were working hard and defending well and denied Lincoln the early goals that had characterised those earlier encounters. The Diamonds midfield three then started to gain some traction around the half-hour mark and possession evened out as the game headed towards half-time.
Chances were still at a premium as both sides harried each other and closed down quickly in midfield. Liam Dolman did come close to turning home a near post corner for Diamonds with a clipped volley and Nabil Shariff hit a volley just over as he was falling on the edge of the box. And for Lincoln Kallum Smith got free again in the left side of the box only to fire across goal again, and Jordan Hempenstall hit a volley on the turn from inside the box but straight at Matt Finlay.
Half-time: Lincoln United 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
The early period of the second half proceeded much as the first with Lincoln passing well and moving the ball quickly across their front four, but finding Rory Winters, Liam Dolman, Sam Brown and Kyal McNulty in excellent aggressive defending mode.
Matt Finlay handled balls into the box well and produced one excellent block to deny a Lincoln winger who had surged in behind the back-four for possibly the only time.
Diamonds were hitting on the break in this period but struggling at times to consistently link-up midfield and attack. Nabil Shariff was always dangerous though and he had a shot on the turn from the edge of the box after he had wriggled into space well held by the home keeper.
Lincoln did have a half penalty appeal as a Rory Winters back header to Finlay fell just short and the Diamonds stopper smothered the home striker as he tried to pounce.
Jordan Hempenstall is definitely the danger man for Lincoln and he nearly crafted a chance on 70 minutes as he ran with the ball along the 18 yard box and saw it ricochet back to him but he could only strike his snap shot across goal.
Manager Andy Peaks then made a bold attacking substitution on 75 as he took off the hardworking but slightly tiring Nabil Shariff for the young legs of Taylor Orosz.
It had an almost instant impact as he occupied the Lincoln back four allowing Richard Bunting to surge onto a loose ball in midfield and stride into space. He fed Fazel Koriya down the right who shimmied the full-back then struck a dangerous cross to the far post that was somehow cleared away from the sprinting Taylor Orosz who looked to have a tap-in.
Richard Bunting whipped in the resultant corner around 8 yards out where Lewis Leslie met it with a thumping header too hot for the home keeper on the line to handle. The Diamonds faithful behind that goal erupted grateful for a chance to warm up with some joyous celebrations with the whole Diamonds side.
Lincoln looked initially downhearted but worked hard to try and create pressure and chances in the final 10 minutes but were repelled by excellent defending particularly by Kyal McNulty at right back. He was fantastically supported by Fazel Koriya who along with Jake Newman, Nabil Shariff and Taylor Orosz proved the old adage that you defend from the front.
Ben Farrell was strong in midfield all night protecting the back four along with the inspirational Richard Bunting and hard working Lewis Leslie and Diamonds saw out the final moments with some comfort to take home a hard won three points.
Final Score: Lincoln United 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
This was the sort of performance that epitomises this team and management group. On a chilly disrupted Tuesday night at a place where the side had been well beaten just 4 weeks ago they showed great attitude and resolve to win a close contest against dangerous opposition.
They had to work hard to contain confident opponents in the opening periods of each half but twice Diamonds managed to turn the tide and get a foothold in the game. Then a bold attacking substitution at the pivotal moment gave Diamonds the momentum to go on and win the points.
Together with the impressive performance at table toppers Shaw Lane last Saturday this should prove to the players and management and the rest of the league that Diamonds are genuine play-off contenders again this season.
They will look confidently now to the festive fixtures at home on Boxing Day to Stamford, and more away trips to Chasetown on 29th and Bedworth on January 2nd.
Man of the Match: Kyal McNulty
Match Report by: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Jake Turner
2. Luke Hornsey
3. Callum Ward
4. Sean Wright
5. Michael Jacklin
6. James Blundell
7. Robert Norris
8. Andrew Toyne
9. Jordan Hempenstall
10. Matthew Cotton
11. Kallum Smith
12. Gary King (for Smith 70)
14. Luke Smithson (for Wright 45)
15. Jack Wilkinson
16. Sean Cann
17. Cain Hutchnison-Wilkes
17. Matt Finlay
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Sam Brown
4. Rory Winters
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Fazel Koriya
9. Jake Newman
10. Lewis Leslie
11. Richard Bunting (Capt)
12. Brad Harris
13. Ben Heath
14. Joe Curtis
15. Lewis Wilson
16. Taylor Orosz (for Shariff 74)
Goals: Lewis (76)
Yellow Card: Norris, King, Jacklin
Referee: Steven Abbott
Assistants: Ian Jackson, Anthony Wingate
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