Lowestoft Town 1-3 AFC R&D U18s / MAA

A second half brace from top scorer Luke Garner, inspired AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / Malcolm Arnold Academy to come from a goal behind on Wednesday afternoon, to win 3-1.

Injuries and unavailability once again played their part in manager Darren Purse’s selection, as they were only able to name 11 men, consisting of mainly first years.

The scholars made the long trip east and soon found out that playing on the bobbly pitch would be contrasting to the 3G surface they played on, on Monday afternoon.

And Lowestoft made the scholars pay as early as just five minutes in. The left winger got in-behind full back Jordan Freeman and fired in a low right-footed shot towards Kacper Watroba’s goal. Watroba parried the ball out, but unfortunately only as far as the home striker, to prod home before the defence could react.

The MAA boys weren’t playing poor, but just couldn’t adapt to a bobbly pitch. They even had two or three really good chances from set-pieces to pull a goal back before half time, but were unable to capitalise.

Half Time. Lowestoft Town 1-0 AFC R&D U18s / MAA.

The Diamonds started the second half brightly as manager Purse made a tactical change, moving Ryan Baird to left back and Ashley Hewett to left wing and it paid dividends.

Three minutes into the second half, the scholars won a free kick. Jamie Mastropiero played it quickly out to Thomas Craddock, who whipped the ball into the box. The cross caused confusion with the goalkeeper and Luke Garner gambled on the cross and fumbled it over the line to make it 1-1.

Diamonds took the lead in the 72nd minute when Hewett latched onto a ball over the top. He beat his full back and got to the by-line, and at the second time of asking picked out Garner once again to make it 2-1 to Rushden.

And the third came shortly after. Lowestoft were looking to press for an equaliser and with fresh players on the pitch, the academy boys had to be mindful of a leveller. But on the counter attack, Isse Ali-Farah won the ball back in the middle for Rushden, and he found Hewett on the left, in space. Yhe winger made no mistake when one-on-one with the goalkeeper to put the game to bed 3-1 after 76 minutes.

Full Time. Lowestoft Town 1-3 AFC R&D U18s / MAA.

After the game, manager Darren Purse was full of praise for striker Luke Garner.

It’s funny with Luke, because when we first met two years ago, I tried to turn him into a centre back, and still today, I believe he would make a good one.

But fair play to him, he stood up for himself and asked for a chance to prove to me that he can play as a striker. His fitness wasn’t good enough to start with, so he worked on that. Now he’s a better player having done everything that I had asked him to do for me.

Technically, he’s not the best player in the team. But Luke gives us something different, an extra dimension. He’s a goalscorer, works the channels and runs his socks off for the lads so that’s why we’re better off with him playing. We’re probably a poorer side when Luke’s not in the team. He’s got a chance of going and making money from the game that’s for sure.”

And Purse was also pleased with the impact that the first year scholars are making.

“It was a pleasing performance, and particularly from the first year lads, they’re really stepping up to the plate. I have a lot of decisions now to make for Monday with players returning from injury, and some of the first years have put their names forward to be starting.”

Report by Hayden Pott.