AFC Rushden & Diamonds began their pre-season campaign with a 3-0 win at Newport Pagnell Town on Friday evening.
A first half goal from Tom Lorraine was followed by two goals in quick succession in the second period, from triallist Nathan Hicks and the returning Jack Bowen.
After the announced squad update last week, which saw many players from last season commit to the club and Jack Bowen confirmed as re-signing for the club, there was a keen sense of anticipation ahead of Diamonds’ first piece of action in the 2018-19 season. Manager Andy Peaks stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that had served the team so well in the last campaign, with Ben Heath in goal behind a defence of Blaize Punter, Liam Dolman and Jack Ashton. Trialists Zac Reynolds and Shawn Richards, known for his two previous spells with the club, lined up in the wing-back areas, and the middle three consisted of Ross Oulton, Ben Diamond and another trialist Nathan Hicks. The strike partnership was made up of Tom Lorraine and Jack Bowen, with a strong-looking six man bench also.
The two teams stepped out onto the Willen Road playing surface, with Diamonds holding a 100% record in their four previous contests against their hosts and looking to start their pre-season campaign in style. After a confident and energetic start that saw them monopolise a lot of the ball without creating too much in the way of clear-cut chances, they took the lead in the thirteenth minute. Reynolds made a smart run down the right before pulling the ball back for the waiting Tom Lorraine and, after his sixteen goals last season, the Diamonds’ record goalscorer was quick off the mark in this campaign by taking a touch and coolly slotting into the back of the net.
Rushden went on to dominate the rest of the half as they moved the ball quickly and confidently, and they were consequently able to dictate the tempo and rhythm of the friendly. They came close to doubling their lead when another strong run down the right flank by Reynolds saw him cross into the area, but after collecting Diamond was only able to fire over the crossbar. For the home side ex-Diamonds man Tom Liversedge threatened when hitting a shot straight at Heath, but it was largely comfortable for the Diamonds in the opening period as they went into the half-time break a goal to the good.
Half Time: Newport Pagnell 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Peaks made a number of substitutions at the interval as he introduced Cameron Gilchrist, Jack Westbrook, Ben Farrell and John Dean for Punter, Lorraine, Oulton and Diamond. This didn’t change the pattern of the contest as Rushden continued to control proceedings, and they came agonisingly close to extending their advantage ten minutes into the second half. Dean and Reynolds linked nicely before the latter lifted a chip towards goal, but unfortunately for the visitors the effort hit the bar and bounced back into play for the hosts to clear. However, Diamonds didn’t have to wait much longer to double the lead. After a patient build-up the ball was worked to Nathan Hicks, and he curled a precise shot into the top corner leaving the Pagnell keeper with no chance.
A minute later the visitors netted again. Dean, who looked very lively throughout the second half, showed great persistence to get to the byline and whip in a cross, and Jack Bowen met the delivery to cleverly steer a finish past the keeper and into the net to register his first goal for the club after his return. Another couple of changes were made as trialist Rhys Kelly came on for the impressive Reynolds and Ben Ford was introduced at the expense of Richards, and though Diamonds continued to boss the rest of the match, opportunities were scarce as they saw out the contest to register a comfortable victory.
Full Time: Newport Pagnell 0-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This represented a good outing for the Diamonds as they began their preparations for their first season at step three of non-league football. The performance was dominant as they controlled the ball and the general proceedings throughout, and each of the three goals were taken well and with confidence. Everybody involved got some useful minutes in their first match for at least a couple of months, and in particular trialists Zac Reynolds and Nathan Hicks, and John Dean also, showed a lot of promising signs and looked threatening. Diamonds’ next pre-season contest sees them travel to UCL Division One club Melton Town on Tuesday July 17th (19:30pm kick-off), a club that has ex-Diamonds men Tom Manship and Jon Stevenson as joint-managers and Robbie Parsons as a recent signing.
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Ben Farrell (for Oulton HT)
Jack Westbrook (for Lorraine HT)
Ben Ford (for Richards 70)
John Dean (for Diamond HT)
Cameron Gilchrist (for Punter HT)
Goals: Lorraine (13), Hicks (59), Bowen (60)