Diamonds dramatically claimed a late equaliser in stoppage time to rescue a draw at Lowestoft on Saturday afternoon.
After a competitive start that had seen both sides threaten, the hosts took the lead in the 18th minute when Kieran Biggs exchanged passes with Shaun Bammant before side-stepping a couple of challenges and firing a shot into the top corner from just inside the area. Bammant had had a header ruled out for offside moments before the goal, and he also helped set up a chance for Adam Smith after a dangerous cross in, but his shot went narrowly wide of the far post. Diamonds probed and pressed, and had quite a few spells of pressure and territory, but weren’t able to create much in the way of clear-cut opportunities. Ben Diamond had a header cleared away, and a late flurry at the end of the half saw Nathan Hicks fire just wide, Lorraine be inches away from reaching a Declan Rogers cross and Rogers control heavily when he was well placed.
Lowestoft started the second half well and had a chance when Smith saw a curling effort only parried by Heath, and the keeper and Dolman did well to block and smuggle away the attempt at a rebound. Diamonds then went on to control much of the half in terms of territory and possession, but the hosts defended strongly and limited Rushden to mainly half-chances. Sam Brown headed over the bar after a corner had dropped to him, Rogers shot narrowly over after neat link-up play with Albie Hopkins and, in their best chance, Jack Ashton saw a header stopped on the line by a combination of keeper and covering defender. Just when it looked Diamonds would suffer back-to-back away defeats substitute John Dean was brought down in the area and a penalty was awarded, despite the advantage initially being played. Fellow substitute Ben Farrell stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way to salvage a point from the jaws of defeat, and to reward Diamonds for a battling away display.
Manager Andy Peaks made just the solitary change to the starting XI that had disappointingly slipped to defeat at Banbury on Tuesday evening. Zack Reynolds returned to the team at the expense of Ben Farrell, and this meant Nathan Hicks moved back into midfield alongside Jack Westbrook (whose three-game suspension begins after this game) and Declan Rogers in a 4-3-3 formation. Joe Curtis also returned amongst the substitutes alongside Nathan Pickworth, Farrell and John Dean.
The two sides took to the Crown Meadow playing surface on an overcast afternoon in Suffolk, with Lowestoft entering the contest 19th in the table. They hadn’t won a league game in nine until they had impressively overcome Royston at home on Tuesday evening, but they had kept three clean sheets in their seven home league games so far. Diamonds were seventh in the table ahead of the match having lost their last two away games without scoring, and they had only won of their last five away games in all competitions. Therefore an intriguing clash lay in wait and, after the players had shaken hands and referee Matt Morrison had conducted the coin-toss, the whistle was blown to start the game.
The opening exchanges were keenly contested and largely competitive as both sides looked to gain an early advantage and to build pressure, but there was a lack of goalmouth action. In the fifth minute Diamonds had a half-chance when good work down the left by Rogers saw his attempted pull-back run loose to Westbrook around 30 yards from goal, but his strike flew harmlessly wide of the post. Moments later the first yellow card of the contest was issued to Lowestoft midfielder Andrew Fisk after he caught Jack Ashton in a 50-50 challenge close to the halfway line. Then, in the next attack, the away side won their first corner of the contest on the left, and Rogers drilled it into the area. It found the free Ben Diamond but his header towards goal was blocked, and then eventually cleared away.
The hosts were enjoying more of the early possession, and in the 14th minute it looked like they had taken the lead. Full-back Jack Wilkinson delivered a deep and dangerous cross from the left that found tall striker Shaun Bammant at the far post, and he outjumped Liam Dolman to bury a header into the far corner of the net. However, the linesman’s flag had been raised for offside, and so the effort was ruled out.
It didn’t take much longer for Lowestoft to take the lead though. Four minutes after the disallowed goal Kieran Higgs received a pass in between the Diamonds midfield and defence, and he drove forward before slipping a through ball to Bammant. The striker cut it back to Higgs, and he sidestepped the covering Sam Brown before clinically striking high into the corner of the net past the despairing dive of Ben Heath.
Although the visitors tried to respond immediately, their final ball was often lacking and just short on accuracy as a number of potentially dangerous attacks broke down in their tracks. The hosts continued to have quite a lot of the ball and looked threatening especially down the left wing, and such a point of attack almost brought them another goal just after the half-hour mark. Bammant found time and space on the left side of the area to flash in a dangerous cross, but it just missed Higgs and another onrushing blue shirt. It reached captain Adam Smith at the far post, and his effort back across goal looked destined to find the corner of the net only for it to flash just wide.
It was a let-off for Diamonds but, despite using the ball well in defence and midfield and Hopkins getting plenty of joy down the left flank, they still struggled to force home keeper Elvijs Putnins into action. The game was still highly competitive with a couple of heavy challenges and flash-points, and one such moment led to a yellow card apiece for Bammant and Dolman after the Diamonds man had reacted to a challenge from the opposing striker.
With only five minutes of normal time remaining at the end of the half, Diamonds created a succession of “if only” moments that could easily have led to an equaliser. Firstly Hopkins jinked inside on the left before cleverly feeding Hicks in the area, and the midfielder’s effort flew towards goal but ultimately just wide of the near post. Then Tom Lorraine won a neat flick-on just ahead of the halfway line to take a defender out of the move and to set the supporting Rogers off on a run. He sprinted into the right side of the area before playing it across towards the onrushing Lorraine, and if the pass had found the Diamonds marksman he would have been through on goal. However, the pass was just intercepted, and the danger was ultimately cleared. The mini-spell of pressure on the home goal didn’t let up though, and a cross into the area was invitingly knocked back for Rogers in a promising position. He took a touch to try and set himself, but it was slightly heavy and a Lowestoft defender was able to nip in to clear the ball away.
Two minutes of added-on time were signalled, but these passed without any action of note as the referee called time on a half that had been lacking in clear-cut chances, and that had seen Lowestoft take the lead leaving Diamonds with work to do in the second half.
Half Time: Lowestoft Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Much of the half-time talk amongst fans focused on if Diamonds would be able to crank up the pressure in the second half, how Lowestoft would approach the game if they still led late in the contest, and who would score the all-important next goal. The players emerged from the changing rooms and, after a swift count of both teams, referee Morrison blew to signal the beginning of the second half.
The half was less than three minutes old when the hosts came close to doubling their lead. After Heath had done well to hold a low fizzing cross into the area from the right, Dolman headed away a deep ball into the area but it fell for Smith in plenty of space on the edge of the box. He curled a left-footed shot towards goal, and Heath was only able to pat it down in front of him. Bammant almost latched onto the rebound before Fisk did, but his mishit shot was deflected behind by the scrambling and recovering Diamonds defence.
This served as a spur for the visitors as they began to dominate possession and territory in their attempts to get back on level terms. Firstly though they were dealt a blow in the 50th minute when Dolman limped off to be replaced by Farrell, and this led to a re-jig in the Diamonds defence as Westbrook dropped back to cover the injured skipper. Moments later they won a corner on the left, and Rogers’ inviting delivery found Brown at the far post in space. His floated header towards the far post and corner of the goal was a good idea, but the execution was just off as it dropped just over the bar. A minute afterwards a swift break saw Hopkins drive purposefully forward and inside from the left channel before seemingly being brought down, but the loose ball ran for Diamond whose shot was blocked. It span back for Hopkins who fed the overlapping run of Rogers on his left, but the midfielder’s shot towards the near post just flashed over the bar.
Lowestoft made a change just after the hour mark when Bammant was replaced by Henry Pollock and, though they were facing increased pressure by Diamonds and being forced to play more on the counter-attack, they were defending their lead strongly and firmly. The visitors were probing, but a lot of their play was in front of the home defence, and many attempts to get in behind were blocked away.
In the 71st minute John Dean was introduced at the expense of Rogers, a minute after home winger Matt Brown had seen a shot blocked from outside the area. Rushden were still monopolising most of the ball without being able to make consistent inroads into the Lowestoft defence, but in the 79th minute that almost changed. A corner from the right was only cleared as far as Reynolds, and his chip back into the area saw Putnins come out to punch the ball ahead of Hopkins. However, his punch was weak and looped up for Dean to head back across the area. Ashton rose above a defender and powered a header towards goal, but a combination of the retreating Putnins and Matt Brown cleared the effort dramatically off the line before it was hacked away upfield.
The game entered the final ten minutes, and the pattern of the second half of Diamonds pressing without being able to break through continued. A couple of promising crosses from the left side by Brown and Hopkins looked like they may find a fellow yellow shirt, but the home backline stood strong and cleared away much of the threat that was thrown at them. The time continued to tick down and, with every minute and with every home clearance that passed, it seemed likely that Diamonds would fall to their second away defeat in the space of five days.
However, one final chance remained. On the stroke of full-time a cross from the right was initially headed away but only as far as Diamond, and he showed the presence of mind to calmly head across to Dean on the left side of the box. The substitute took a touch and then pushed the ball past Fisk only for him to be clipped, but the ball ran to the overlapping Brown who flashed the ball across the six-yard box that Lorraine came inches away from converting only for a covering defender to gallantly head away. The referee had blown his whistle a second before though, and was pointing to the penalty spot for the foul on Dean. Ben Farrell calmly placed the ball on the spot and, after the referee’s whistle was sounded, took a couple of short steps back before coolly side-footing the ball to the keeper’s left. Putnins dived the other way, and the effort hit the back of the net to draw the Diamonds level in dramatic circumstances.
Time still remained for Diamonds to launch one final attack as they refused to just settle for the draw, and in the third minute of stoppage time Dean sped away down the left and to the byline before standing up a cross to the far post. Lorraine challenged for the ball and almost reached it, but a defender cleared it ahead of him and won a free-kick for a push by the striker.
Moments later referee Morrison blew for full-time, and to call time on a game that had seen Lowestoft defend their lead manfully for long periods, but that had seen the Diamonds’ pressure pay dividends in the end.
Full Time: Lowestoft Town 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
A point was a fair result with Lowestoft taking the lead and having a couple of good chances to extend the advantage, but Diamonds having plenty of the ball and pressure in controlling much of the second period especially. It was a largely competitive game that lacked lots of goalmouth action throughout, and though they struggled to consistently threaten and test the home backline, Rushden never gave in in pushing for the equaliser and they were duly rewarded in stoppage-time. Credit must go to the hosts for sticking diligently to their task and for almost seeing out their second straight victory, but Diamonds merited a share of the spoils which keeps them just outside the play-off places. Their next match sees them return to Hayden Road to take on Halesowen Town on Tuesday evening (November 27th, 19:45pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Nathan Hicks
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Elvijs Putnins
2. Armani Schaar
3. Jack Wilkinson
4. Connor Deeks
5. Rossi Jarvis
6. Luca Vega
7. Adam Smith (C)
8. Andrew Fisk
9. Shaun Bammant
10. Kieran Higgs
11. Matt Brown
12. Fletcher Hedge
13. Andy Reynolds
14. Danny Pinheiro
15. Henry Pollock (for Bammant 61)
16. Cion Wren
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jack Westbrook
7. Albie Hopkins
8. Declan Rogers
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean (for Rogers 71)
14. Joe Curtis
15. Ben Farrell (for Dolman 50)
16. Louie Barrett
Goals: Higgs (18)
Goals: Farrell (pen 90+1)
Yellow Cards: Fisk (8), Bammant (39)
Yellow Cards: Dolman (39)
Referee: Matt Morrison
Assistants: Adam McAnoy, Lewis Venables