AFC Rushden & Diamonds extended their unbeaten run as goals from Alex Deakin in the first half, and Chris Hope after the break sealed victory at ON Chenecks. The game followed a similar pattern to many Diamonds games, with plenty of chances to make the game safe in the first half, then a nervous last few minutes as their jaded second half performance allowed the hosts to get back into the game with a late goal.
With this win the Diamonds went to the top of the ChromaSport and Trophies Division 1 table – see the latest table here.
With Jack Wisniewski and Arron Parkinson recovering from illnesses, and Sam Brown still sidelined due to injury, Diamonds manager Mark Starmer brought back Joe Merrill into the starting XI, with Aaron King rested to the bench as the team reverted to a 4-4-2 formation. Quincy Shorunmu was also rested to allow time to recover from the injury he had been carrying in recent games, with recent signing Tom Cross making his debut. Up front Alfie Taylor was also rested to the bench, allowing Deven Ellwood to start alongside Jake Newman, who claimed the number 9 shirt. Lance Allen started in place of Jack Wisniewski.
On the first spring like afternoon of 2013, the excellent Diamonds following spread out around the perimeter of the pitch with a roped off boundary. Although the welcome from the hosts was very cordial, there were times in the first half that some of the challenges were rather less welcoming, although referee Worrall was rather more charitable.
Several early chances fell to Jake Newman, who had a shot was well saved after 5 minutes, then a few minutes later drew another good save from Lauskinieks, and then he hit the post as he latched onto the rebound. The Chenecks keeper had a fine game, making amends for his error in the game at the Dog & Duck, and he also saved a Deakin shot after a Gearing freekick was only partially cleared.
At the other end Chris Doran might have done better with a good chance set up by an Ogden free kick, whilst Deven Ellwood also had a shot saved by Lauskinieks, who also did really well to fly across his area to palm away a Chris Hope header from a Gearing free kick.
Although the Diamonds were having much the better of the play in this period, they had another scare after 18 minutes when Tom Gee broke down the left and squared for Justin McKenzie but the Chenecks striker’s effort hit the post and bounced away to safety.
Just as it looked like the Diamonds would not make their pressure pay, with six minutes left in the half they took the lead. Joe Merrill got forwards following a corner to fire a shot that was well blocked, but cleared out to the left, where Matt Gearing crossed for Alex Deakin to head powerfully home.
There was still time for Chris Doran to go close for the second time in the half for the hosts, as he got on the end of a long throw from Tom Gee.
Half-Time: Northampton ON Chenecks 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
Any thoughts that the Diamonds might step things up a gear for the second half were quickly dispelled, as it was the home side who had their best spell of the game after the break. Although they pressed the Diamonds midfield forcing them onto the backfoot, they didn’t really create a clear cut chance, but saw a number of efforts go wide of Tom Cross’s goal.
It was thus against the run of play that the Diamonds got their second goal after 66 minutes, as a setpiece was cleared as far as the half-way line, and a long ball back from Joe Merrill just inside the Chenecks half was headed home by Chris Hope.
Another long ball saw Jake Newman have a chance to wrap the game up, but Lauskinieks tipped the shot wide. One of the neatest Diamonds moves of the game saw Gillingwater find McBride, who slid the ball into the path of substitute Ben Morgan who squared for Alfie Taylor but he could not get over the ball and his effort went over the bar.
The remainder of the game saw the hosts pressing the Diamonds with a major threat from the long throws of Tom Gee. After 85 minutes they got the goal their pressure had threatened as a cross from the right was headed home by Ben Diamond.
This meant a nervous last few minutes for the Diamonds, with captain Chris Hope needing lengthy treatment after being caught by an elbow, although, as expected, the Diamonds captain continued to command the defence until the final whistle after six minutes of added time.
Full-Time: Northampton ON Chenecks 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
With Sileby Rangers dropping three points for the second time in a week, the Diamonds take top-spot in the table, although both Sileby and Oadby can overtake them with their respective games in hand. The Diamonds have done well holding on to narrow leads during their long unbeaten run, but will know that if they do not make games safe when they have the chance then they are vulnerable to drop valuable points that might cost them promotion.
The next chapter in this exciting promotion chase comes next Saturday when dangerous Bourne Town visit the Dog and Duck in the final Saturday home game of the season.
Attendance: Approx 448
Diamonds Man of the Match: Matt Gearing
Northampton ON Chenecks
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Janis Lauskinieks
2. Tim Clack
3. Chris Doran
4. Joe Lewington (Capt)
5. Jez Hindle
6. Joe Evans
7. Tom Gee
8. Ash Ogden
9. Justin McKenzie
10. Ben Diamond
11. Elliott Muddiman.
12. Adam Hancock (for McKenzie 73)
14. James Allcock (for Ogden HT)
15. Scott Barczewski
16. Simon McCarthy (for Doran 57)
17. Ben Lewington
13. Tom Cross
2. Jake Gillingwater
3. Joe Merrill
4. Séan McBride
5. Chris Hope (capt)
6. Alex Deakin
7. Matt Gearing
8. Brad Harris
9. Jake Newman
10. Deven Ellwood
11. Lance Allen
12. Ben Morgan (for Newman 73)
13. Quincy Shorunmu
14. Aaron King
16. Alfie Taylor (for Ellwood 58)
15. Elliot Dent
Goals: Diamond (85)
Goals: Deakin (39), Hope (66)
Yellow Cards : None
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Kevin Worrall
Assistants: Ian Campbell, Paul Speakman
For video highlights of the game and post-match interviews see here.
Images courtesy of Mal Swinden ©2013 Malcolm Swinden Photography
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