An 87th minute free-kick from Richard Bunting gave Rushden & Diamonds a 2-1 victory over Newport Pagnell Town at Willen Road. The hosts had taken an early lead, but a Russ Dunkley header had made the scores level at the break.
Diamonds’ manager Mark Starmer was forced to make changes following the injuries picked up on Tuesday evening, with regulars Joe Merrill and Séan McBride unavailable. He switched to a back three of Brown, Parkinson and Henderson, with Brad Harris and Richard Bunting starting in central midfield flanked by Gearing and Ling. Fazel Koriya took over from Aaron King to support Taylor and Bunting up front. Three of the Diamonds bench had played for the U21 side earlier in the day, with Noah Bryant appearing for the first time. Jake Gillingwater also returned to the bench for the first time since the two teams had met at the start of December.
Swans’ Manager Darren Lynch was able to name himself as the central striker for his team, and could also bring back captain John Thorpe following a recent suspension. He also brought in Richard Armstrong who had returned to Willen Road following a spell with Aylesbury United.
Apart from an area in one corner, the pitch was in reasonable condition, but both teams struggled to string passes together in a congested midfield as the hosts played with five in that area. An early ball in from Gregory on the left saw Lynch make a run behind Sam Brown and dink the ball over the advancing Finlay from a narrow angle, but Arron Parkinson was on hand to clear. The Diamonds forced a couple of early corners, with Joe Henderson heading one of them back across the box without anyone being able to get a finishing touch.
The Swans’ main threat came from a series of corners, and after 13 minutes they were able to take advantage with the opening goal. Ben Shepherd took a corner from the left which flicked off a defender’s head while Finlay was pinned on the line by Lynch, and it fell into the path of John Thorpe who fired home on the half-volley.
The hosts had the better of the first quarter, but the Diamonds had still managed to hit the post through an effort from Alfie Taylor.
As the half progressed Richard Bunting and Brad Harris started to take control of central midfield, although little was being produced down the flanks. Bunting took a free kick on the right which saw Arron Parkinson hit the post from an overhead kick. Russ Dunkley set up Alfie Taylor for a chance but his low shot was blocked.
After 37 minutes the improvement in the Diamonds’ play led to the equaliser. A Gearing corner from the left was headed home by Russ Dunkley.
The visitors had two golden chances to go ahead before the break. An excellent long ball from Sam Brown was neatly controlled by Matt Gearing and he ran on to hit a dangerous ball across the box that nobody could get latch onto. On the stroke of the interval a ball forwards from Brown was headed into the path of Fazel Koriya, and although his first effort hit keeper McAdoo, it bounced straight back to him, but his follow-up effort ballooned over the bar.
Between those two chances Darren Lynch was performing the hold-up role for the Swans really well, and he set up Scott Mulkeen for a chance that was cleared for a corner.
Half-Time: Newport Pagnell Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
After the Diamonds had taken control of the latter part of the first half, it was hoped they might continue at that tempo in the second period, but the match was rather flat for long periods of the second half.
Russ Dunkley linked with Alfie Taylor on the left side of the area, and his chip across the box was just too high for Koriya to force on target, although Matt Gearing might have been better placed for the cross. Koriya also dragged a shot wide after Dunkley flicked on a Brown throw.
The match looked to be headed for a draw as it entered the final five minutes, until a Diamonds break saw Fazel Koriya hauled down by John Thorpe whilst in full flight, with the Swans captain picking up a yellow card. Referee Humphries paced out the 10 yards to the edge of the penalty area, meaning the kick was 28 yards from goal, slightly to the left of centre. With both Bunting and Gearing standing over the ball, it was Richard Bunting who fired an unstoppable kick the curled into the top left corner. The goal was Bunting’s second for the club, as he had scored against Spalding in one of his other two league starts for the club.
The Diamonds quickly went to a back four by bringing on Jake Gillingwater as the hosts brought on their final two substitutes, and they were able to negotiate the final few minutes without major problems. Perhaps the quality of the game meant it didn’t merit being settled by such a memorable free kick, but once again the Diamonds had sealed a 2-1 away win.
Full-Time: Newport Pagnell Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Diamonds Man of the Match: Richard Bunting
Newport Pagnell Town
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Josh McAdoo
2. Lewis Smith
3. James Gregory
4. John Thorpe (Capt)
5. Matt Brady
6. Sam Parrish
7. Scott Mulkern
8. Richard Armstrong
9. Darren Lynch
10. Ben Shepherd
11. Matt Broomes
12. Ieaun Reilly (for Shepherd 87)
14. Elliott O’Reilly (for Parrish 87)
15. Tariq Totey
16. Charles McKay (for Smith 66)
17. Ben Hill
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Henderson
3. Sam Brown
4. Richard Bunting
5. Brad Harris
6. Arron Parkinson (Capt)
7. Matt Gearing
8. Fazel Koriya
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Greg Ling
12. Aaron King
13.Connor Brown (GK)
14. Noah Bryant
15. Jake Gillingwater (for Taylor 87)
16. Ben Morgan (for Ling 74)
Goal: Thorpe (13)
Goals: Dunkley (37), Bunting (87)
Yellow Cards: Lynch, Armstrong, Thorpe
Yellow Cards: Harris
Referee: Andrew Humphries
Assistants: Laurie Evans, John Fowler