Lowestoft Town FC 2-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds struck a stoppage-time winner to seal a second half comeback at Lowestoft on Saturday afternoon.

The relegation-threatened hosts should have led inside the first minute when striker Jake Reed shot straight at Dean Snedker, and the Rushden keeper made another important save to deny captain Ryan Jarvis. Sam Warburton was also required to clear off the line following a powerful header, but it was the visitors who forged ahead when a swift counter-attack resulted in Connor Furlong clinically firing into the far corner.

The winger thought he’d doubled the advantage at the start of the second half when his corner from the right led to multiple claims that it had crossed the line, but the referee and linesman turned down the appeals. Lowestoft then turned the match on its head in the space of nine minutes when firstly Reed swept home a cross from the right to level, and he then ran through before rounding Snedker and finding the empty net to put the home side ahead. Rushden responded as Ryan Hughes latched onto a loose ball before hitting his effort inside the far post, and Ben Diamond was then denied by a last-ditch block. Just when it appeared the match would end in a draw, Nathan Tshikuna lined up a 40-yard free-kick to catch the keeper out at his near post as it clipped the upright and nestled in the net to send the traveling faithful into raptures.

First half

Interim manager Burgess made one enforced change from the side that had beaten Hednesford in his first game in charge. Alex Collard was unavailable and so was replaced in a like-for-like change by Ryan Hughes, with Fernando Bell-Toxtle taking the captain’s armband.

The hosts came into the clash second-bottom having lost four of their last five and only emerging victorious in one of their previous six, though this was an impressive home win over fourth-placed Peterborough Sports. Rushden occupied the final play-off place and had won five of their last seven away from Hayden Road, with eight wins in their last ten league matches overall as well.

Referee Ollie Morris-Sanders got the contest underway, and the relegation-threatened hosts should have led inside the opening minute. Bell-Toxtle’s attempted pass across the defence was intercepted by striker Jake Reed, and he ran through on goal only to tamely shoot straight at Dean Snedker. Lowestoft kept up the early pressure as a low pull-back from the right found captain Ryan Jarvis, and his well-struck effort forced Snedker into a good save to his left.

Diamonds responded as neat link-up play between Connor Furlong and Paddy Casey down the right led to Nathan Tshikuna almost getting a shot away, only to be crowded out. Minutes later the attacking midfielder then swung in a corner from the left that found Liam Dolman, but his looping header dropped comfortably over the bar.

The home side, nicknamed The Trawler Boys, came very close again in the 21st minute when a corner of their own found defender Harry Knights who powerfully headed towards goal. It beat the rooted Snedker but not Sam Warburton who was perfectly placed on the goal-line to block the effort and clear away.

The end-to-end nature of the game continued as both sides threatened when attacking at pace. Tshikuna saw a long-range strike well blocked away and a couple of away free-kick were also well defended, with Bell-Toxtle then doing well to get back and stop a swift counter led by Reed.

Another counter-attack led to the opening goal as Diamonds forged ahead. A Lowestoft corner was well claimed by Snedker, and he was quick to dispatch it down the pitch. There was a two-on-two situation as the home defence backpedalled, and Tshikuna used his strength well to flick it through to Connor Furlong. He timed his run well to stay onside, and he exemplified composure as he sprinted into the box before clinically shooting across Luis Tibbles into the far corner.

They could have doubled their advantage a couple of minutes later as AJ George was free in the box, but the ball bounced up and so his looped effort went across goal with Furlong also close to turning it home. Shane Bush then met a Furlong cross in stoppage-time, but his flicked header dopped just over.

Half time: Lowestoft Town 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Second half

Rushden started the second period on the front foot, and they thought they’d extended their lead in the 47th minute. Furlong’s corner from the right passed over everyone and seemed it may have crossed the line before it was cleared, with strong appeals from both away players and fans alike. However, the referee and assistant ref waved the claims away.

This was made even more significant when the hosts equalised with their next attack. Kieran Higgs was fed down the right before his low cross found Jake Reed in space, and he in turn steered his effort inside the far corner past Snedker’s despairing dive.

The Trawler Boys were now full of confidence, with the home fans also being loud in their support. Louis McIntosh, who scored for Lowestoft in the reverse fixture earlier this campaign, slammed a strike just over from the edge of the box before then having a downward header easily saved.

However, they soon took the lead just after the hour mark. A precise ball through found Jake Reed who outpaced Dolman and then coolly skipped round Snedker before rolling the ball into the empty net.

The game had been completely turned on its head in the space of nine minutes, and Diamonds now faced an uphill task to react and get something from the game. They responded well immediately as George got down the left before his curling attempt was deflected narrowly over. The visitors also won a series of corners which were all dangerous, but the home defence stood strong and were able to clear the danger.

Rushden didn’t have to wait much longer for a leveller though. Tshikuna launched a deep free-kick into the heart of the area, and the loose ball dropped with nobody sure of where it was for a couple of moments. Ryan Hughes reacted first as he swung his left foot at it, and the effort went past Tibbles as it nestled into the far corner.

The goal set up a terrific final twenty minutes with both sides seeking the three points for different needs. Burgess made his first substitution soon after Hughes’ strike as Will Jones replaced Bush, and Jesse Akubuine then replaced Ben Diamond who had gone down with a knock. Moments before that Diamond came within millimetres of giving Rushden the lead as a corner from the right was dropped by Tibbles, and the midfielder’s shot was somehow deflected wide from close-range. Furlong then threaded a low strike narrowly wide of the far upright.

Lowestoft were being forced further back in the face of increasing away pressure, and Jack Snelus was introduced for George in Rushden’s final change. Tshikuna almost got a shot away following a charge led by Bell-Toxtle, but the home side were just able to get the ball away.

Just when it looked like the entertaining contest would end honours even, there was to be late drama. One minute into stoppage-time, Nathan Tshikuna had his shirt pulled around 40 yards out and slightly left of centre. With everybody in the ground assuming he would send the delivery towards the far post, Tshikuna whipped a strike towards the near side of the goal. Tibbles dived and it hit the post, with the ball rolling across goal and into the far corner of the net. It sparked jubilant and memorable scenes amongst all of a Diamonds persuasion, and it was a fitting moment of individual brilliance to settle such a match.

The visitors held on for the remaining few minutes to see out a crucial victory in their fight for the play-offs.

Full time: Lowestoft Town 2-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

The hosts will feel hard done by as they belied their league position in a strong performance, but Diamonds once again showed their character, spirit and togetherness that’s coursing throughout the club as they responded to adversity and fashioned another moment of late drama. Their excellent recent run continues as they move four points clear of sixth-placed Alvechurch with two games still in hand, and they are only three points off Peterborough Sports in fourth.

Their next match sees them take on the fourth-placed outfit on Tuesday 15 March, 7.45pm kick-off, at The Bee Arena in another crucial clash.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Connor Furlong

Attendance: 580

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Lowestoft: Luis Tibbles,Joshua Wells, Mitchell Belmar, Ryan Jarvis (C) (Owen Lane 74), Harry Knights, Travis Cole, Kieran Higgs, Tai Fleming, Jake Reed, Louis MicIntosh (Joshua Harvey 83), Marcus Wilkinson (subs not used: Dylan Ruffles, Henry Pollock, Adam Tann)

Lowestoft goals: Reed (52, 61)

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle (C), Dolman, Hughes, Tshikuna, Diamond (Akubuine 80), Bush (Jones 74), George (Snelus 86), Furlong (subs not used: Slinn, Nixon)

Diamonds goals: Furlong (39), Hughes (71), Tshikuna (90+1)