Diamonds romped to a fantastic victory at Needham Market on Saturday afternoon.
The opening exchanges were relatively even and thoroughly competitive, with both sides threatening to break the deadlock. Declan Rogers volleyed over and Ben Farrell drove an effort just wide for the visitors, and Joseph Marsden put a free header over the bar for the hosts, but it was Diamonds who took the lead. Rogers curled an effort goalwards that was well parried only for Joel Gyasi to latch onto the rebound and drill an effort across goal that Ben Diamond turned home into an empty net. He almost doubled the lead when his flicked header was tipped over the bar and, after Heath made a comfortable save from a home effort, Gyasi came close to extending the advantage when his shot towards the far corner was well saved.
That was the final action of the first half, and the first action of the second period saw Diamonds score less than a minute after the kick-off. A superbly-weighted through ball found Diamond running through on goal, and he unselfishly squared the ball across for Jack Bowen to control and slot home into the unguarded net. Needham fought back and pulled one back only moments later when Daniel Morphew headed in a corner from the left, but Rushden didn’t let this affect them and they maintained their composure and level of performance even in the face of increased home possession and territory. Zach Reynolds and Farrell both had attempts saved, but the two-goal lead was re-established in the 70th minute through a terrific 25-yard strike into the top corner by Declan Rogers. This just about out the result beyond doubt, though there was still time for Diamonds to add two more goals through two substitutes. Firstly Tom Lorraine met a Rogers free-kick to head home at the far post, and in the last minute of normal time Albie Hopkins ran through before clipping a neat finish over the keeper to cap a terrific result.
Manager Andy Peaks made three alterations to the side that had begun the Southern League Challenge Cup penalty shoot-out defeat at Kempston Rovers on Tuesday night. Man of the Match from that game Zack Reynolds came in to replace Callum Westwood at right-back, Ben Farrell replaced Blaize Punter and Joel Gyasi took the place of Tom Lorraine.
The two sides took to the Bloomfields playing surface on a wet and rainy day for the first ever meeting between the two sides. Needham were also new to the league having been transferred from the Isthmian League Premier Division last season, and they came into the contest 14th in the table having won their opening two league games but then not having won any of their next six. Diamonds were 17th ahead of the game having lost three of their four away league games so far and losing their last three consecutive away games in all competitions, and so it was an important fixture for both to get back on track. After both sets of players had shaken hands and the respective captains had conducted the coin-toss, referee Thomas Hancock signalled the start of the game.
The game began quickly as both teams looked to start on the front foot and to get an early grip on proceedings. Home attacker Luke Ingram saw a cross cleared away before Diamonds broke away down the other end and, after a throw-in and a positive run forward by Joel Gyasi, they won a corner. Declan Rogers’ delivery found a rising Sam Brown at the back post but his header across goal was cleared away and a further corner was earnt. The ensuing set-piece was met by Farrell, but his header drifted harmlessly wide of the post.
Needham, nicknamed the Marketmen, won a couple of corners of their own shortly afterwards. The initial curling delivery was dangerous but ultimately well defended by the visitors at the expense of another set-piece, and this was whipped in only for the resulting header by a home man to flash wide of the mark.
Diamonds had started the affair in a 4-3-3 formation, with Gyasi and Ben Diamond supporting Jack Bowen up front and Jack Westbrook partnering Liam Dolman in the middle of defence. Westbrook did superbly well in the ninth minute to end a threatening attack by timing a slide challenge well and playing the ball off the advancing striker to win a goal-kick, and moments later the first proper chance of the game was created. It fell the way of Rushden as a move down the right side resulted in Reynolds dinking a neat ball over the top of a defender to find the onrushing Rogers, but after initially demonstrating close control his resulting half-volley flew over the crossbar.
Only a minute the visitors created another presentable opportunity. Gyasi did well to escape down the left before being surrounded by opposing red shirts, but he did excellently to find Farrell who dummied well and then struck a low effort from around 25 yards out that flew just wide of the near post with the keeper flat-footed. After a relatively chanceless opening ten minutes both sides were now threatening to open the scoring, and the host easily could have done in the seventeenth minute. They won a corner on the right and the pinpoint delivery by Tariq Issa found a free Joseph Marsden, but he conspired to put his header well over the goal.
That was a let-off for the Diamonds, and they used this as inspiration to begin to control possession and territory following the highly competitive opening to the match. After a potentially dangerous Rogers free-kick from the right wing was well cleared away, a lifted ball by Westbrook was flicked on by Bowen for Farrell to almost reach. It just ran away from the midfielder but the loose ball dropped for Gyasi whose deflected cross almost fell for Farrell again, but the ball ricocheted off the away man and out for a goal-kick.
It didn’t take much longer for the Diamonds to take the lead however. A loose ball ran for Gyasi on the left who generated some space to roll it across to Rogers on the edge of the area, and his low curling effort was parried away by the keeper. The rebound was latched onto by the aware Gyasi though and he drilled a low effort across goal that was turned into the empty net by Ben Diamond. It was the striker’s first goal since the opening day of the season, and gave the visitors an important lead upon which to build.
The home side tried to respond with an attack that led to a free-kick on the left, but the delivery was initially cleared by Dolman and then by Westbrook. Aside from that though, Diamonds looked the more likely to score the next goal as their front three were interchangeable and causing danger, and their midfield three were beginning to control and dictate the contest more and more. In the 35th minute Rogers found room to curl a cross in from the right, and it found the clever near-post run of Diamond whose flicked header was well tipped over the bar by the stretching keeper.
Both teams then received a yellow card as firstly Issa fouled Farrell to earn a caution, and then Westbrook stopped a potential counter-attack in its tracks short of the halfway line to also be shown a card. Rushden were looking to double their advantage before the half-time whistle, but a couple of counter-attacks broke down as firstly Gyasi’s ball towards Rogers in a four-on-three situation in Diamonds’ favour was deflected back to the keeper, and then Farrell appeared to have been released through on goal by a bounce off Bowen but the linesman’s flag was raised.
One final chance remained for each side in the opening half. On the stroke of half-time Needham winger Adam Mills ran forward in the left channel and into the area before finding room to hit a shot towards goal, but it was straight at Ben Heath and the Diamonds keeper was able to collect at the second attempt. Then in the third of three additional minutes the visitors broke forward, and superbly quick feet by Diamond helped him to jink into space before he played a neat pass into the path of Gyasi, and the winger turned and shot towards the far corner only for the keeper to dive across and make a good save low down.
Moments later the referee signalled the end of the half, one in which had been fairly even for the opening twenty minutes before Diamonds upped the pressure and scored to hold a narrow advantage at the interval.
Half Time: Needham Market 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Much of the talk at the interval centred around who would score the all-important next goal of the contest, and if Needham would be able to find a way back into the game or if Diamonds would continue their general dominance on proceedings. The teams returned to the field of play, and the referee quickly counted both sets of players before the hosts got the match back underway for the second half.
Play had been back underway less than a minute when Rushden doubled their lead. They gained possession in midfield before Gyasi moved inside to slip a brilliant through ball into the path of Diamond. The first goalscorer ran through with only the keeper to beat, but he unselfishly played a simple pass across for Jack Bowen to control and then easily stroke home into the empty net. It was the striker’s fourth goal in his last five games, and represented a perfect start to the half for the visitors.
However, no sooner had Diamonds extended their advantage, Needham reduced the deficit. A threatening attack was cleared away for a corner on the left, and the resulting inswinging delivery found the free Daniel Morphew to flash a header past the helpless Heath and into the back of the net.
It had been an invigorating start to the half with two goals inside three minutes, and the latest goal seemed to galvanise the hosts into action. A few minutes later an attack led to a snapshot from the edge of the area that Heath did well to collect, but then Diamonds responded and went close themselves only a minute later. A loose ball fell for Bowen around 20 yards from goal and he hit a half-volley towards the corner that the keeper did well to parry to his right. The arriving Rogers looked to latch onto the rebound, but the linesman’s flag was raised against the midfielder.
Chances were aplenty in the early exchanges, and the away side had a superb chance to re-establish their lead in the 53rd minute. A neat and swift passing interchange saw Diamond release the onrushing Reynolds through on goal, but his effort was well parried away. The rebound ran out to Gyasi on the left side of the area, and he managed to jink inside before curling a shot harmlessly over the crossbar.
The game settled down for a few minutes after the frenetic nature of the previous ten minutes, and Needham especially looked to push and probe for an equaliser only for Dolman to make a couple of key interceptions to stop attacks in their tracks. On the hour mark Dolman was required again when a neat ball found home substitute Reece Dobson running in behind the away defence, but he was tracked all the way by the Diamonds defender and the following effort was deflected comfortably into the hands of Heath.
The Marketmen were beginning to increase their pressure slightly and were having more possession and territory as Diamonds were forced onto the back foot for a period, and two minutes after the previous chance Needham won a free-kick on the left. The delivery was headed away but only as far as Jeremiah Kamanzi who thrashed a wild effort high and wide from the edge of the box.
Rushden were still looking threatening everytime they went forward though with the interlinking of the front three and the passing accuracy of the midfield three, and they almost scored in the 63rd minute. Diamond escaped down the right with an incisive run before crossing into the middle and, though a home defender was able to head away, it ran straight to the lurking Farrell outside the area. He caught his half-volley terrifically and it flew towards the far corner, but the keeper did well to dive across to his right and beat away the attempt.
Needham continued to apply pressure, but most of their play was in front of Diamonds who were working tremendously hard to shut down any space available to the hosts. This was typified by one attack that saw first Diamond and then Bowen track back to win possession before an opening could be worked. The hosts were unable to work a clear opening with which to threaten an equaliser, and as the game entered the final twenty minutes all was still very much to play for. The next goal was always going to be crucial, and it went the way of Diamonds. Farrell did excellently to keep the ball in on the right before Diamond collected possession and cut in from the right before passing it across to Declan Rogers. The midfielder allowed the pass to run across him before he hit a left-footed strike towards goal from fully 30 yards out, and it flew like a missile past the keeper and into the top corner of the net. It was a simply special strike, one that will surely be a goal of the season contender, and marked Rogers’ first goal during his second stint at the club.
Though the game wasn’t secured with that goal, it did allow the Diamonds some breathing space and some relative comfort. Peaks made his first change by introducing Joe Curtis for Farrell, and moments later Dobson wound up a shot for the hosts from range only for the effort to fly harmlessly wide of the mark. The visitors were still keeping their shape tremendously well and limiting Needham to very little in the way of riposte, and they added another goal in the 80th minute. Moments after replacing Bowen, Tom Lorraine won a free-kick down the right before Rogers’ sumptuous delivery from the resulting kick found the striker at the far post to head into the far corner of the net.
Rushden were playing with an air of confidence which led to some free-flowing attacking moves, and one saw Gyasi find Curtis before he in turn found Diamond. He cut inside before finding Gyasi running through, and the winger cut it across for Lorraine who seemed odds on to notch his second of the game, but the keeper brilliantly tipped the sidefooted effort over the bar. The resulting corner was taken short, and Gyasi’s cross almost found Dolman before Diamond then saw a shot blocked away before the hosts managed to clear upfield.
Albie Hopkins replaced Gyasi in Diamonds’ final change and, after Callum Sturgess had a shot that was deflected and then ended up dropping wide for the hosts, the substitute notched a further Rushden goal. A long ball over the top of the home defence found the well-timed run of the Oxford United loanee, and he calmly clipped a right-footed finish over the keeper and into the far corner of the net.
Three minutes of additional time were signalled, and these passed without any action of note before the referee blew the full-time whistle on a game that had seen Diamonds clinically take their chances and romp to a deserved away success.
Full Time: Needham Market 1-5 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This represented a superb victory for the Diamonds, one that saw them score the important first goal of the contest and then truly turn on the style in the second period to run out four-goal victors. After Needham pulled one back they could easily have sat back and tried to protect their lead, but they defended strongly in never allowing the hosts another clear sight of goal whilst still representing a pacey and fluid threat on the counter-attack. Many of their passing exchanges in the second half especially were free-flowing and superbly worked and, though credit must go to Needham for never giving in and going until the very last, Diamonds showed a ruthless streak and simply blew the hosts away in registering their first away win in four. Their next game sees them take on Barwell, inspiring memories of the FA matches back in 2015, at Hayden Road on Saturday October 13th, 15.00pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ben Diamond
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Jake Jessup
2. Jake Dye
3. Callum Sturgess
4. Jeremiah Kamanzi
5. Samuel Squire
6. Daniel Morphew
7. Joseph Marsden
8. Gareth Heath (C)
9. Luke Ingram
10. Tariq Issa
11. Adam Mills
12. Reece Dobson (for Ingram 35)
14. Jamie Griffiths (for Kamanzi 70)
16. Conor McLaughlin (for Griffiths 84)
17. Finlay Shorten
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Declan Rogers
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Ben Farrell
9. Jack Bowen
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean
14. Joe Curtis (for Farrell 71)
15. Albie Hopkins (for Gyasi 87)
16. Tom Lorraine (for Bowen 78)
17. Nathan Pickworth
Goals: Morphew (48)
Goals: Diamond (26), Bowen (46), Rogers (70), Lorraine (80), Hopkins (90)
Yellow Cards: Issa (37), Squire (66)
Yellow Cards: Westbrook (38)
Referee: Thomas Hancock
Assistants: Thomas Kelly, Darren Lander
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
The updated Match Stats, Player Stats and Attendance figures along with league stats are found in the First Team stats area on this website here. You can also find updated fixture lists in the main fixture and results grid, with further details on the Fixture News page, including details of including them in online calendars.
Interviews with Ben Diamond and manager Andy Peaks are found here – Needham Market Interviews