A second half goal from Alex Deakin helped AFC Rushden & Diamonds defeat Northampton Sileby Rangers 1-0 on Tuesday evening. In front of a superb travelling support, on a cold and damp evening, the Diamonds had to ride their luck in the first half, as the hosts hit the woodwork several times along with forcing several excellent saves from Quincy Shorunmu and a couple of goalline clearances. The Diamonds had several chances of their own in the first period, but they dominated the second half and fully deserved the win after Deakin headed home a corner midway through the half.
With Chris Hope absent due to an injury, Diamonds manager Mark Starmer kept faith with the same starting XI as Saturday, and an unchanged bench. Fernie Fields lived up to its pre-match billing as one of the finest grounds in the UCL, with a pitch like a billiard table and neatly manicured surrounds, although the Diamonds fans did not get a chance to sample the impressive clubhouse.
With such a smooth pitch at their home ground, it was no surprise that the hosts were able to sweep the ball around and produce an attacking threat down both flanks as well as through the middle. With the Rangers strikeforce having a reputation for scoring at will, the Diamonds needed Quincy Shorunmu in excellent form as he made several excellent saves, along with assistance from the woodwork and a couple of goalline clearances as Byrne, Foster, Ling and Redding were unable to break the deadlock during the first period.
At the other end the Diamonds were also able to create chances in an open game, with both Newman and Taylor missing the target with good chances, and then the two strikers combined on the left to set up the impressive Matt Gearing, but his shot hit Watts and away to safety, Jake Newman had a further chance when the pass of the game from Jake Gillingwater fell perfectly into his path, but he dragged his shot wide. Newman did have the ball in the net, but was adjudged to have fouled a defender as he turned to latch onto a long ball.
An early yellow card for Brad Harris was a concern, especially when he was called upon to make a last ditch challenge to deny a possible Rangers break. Séan McBride also had a great chance to open the scoring when he ghosted in at the far post on the end of a Gillingwater cross, but could only divert the ball wide. Jack Wisniewski also went close after Darren Watts raced out of his area to clear the ball up field, and had to get his finger tips to Wisniewski’s lob back towards goal.
After the action packed first period, the Diamonds would have been pleased to reach the break on level terms, but equally would have been aware they could not afford to allow their hosts so many scoring opportunities in the second period.
Half-Time: Northampton Sileby Rangers 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
The Diamonds performance in the second period was possibly their best 45 minutes of the season so far, as they were able to dominate the game by closing down their opponents, holding the ball up better, with Gearing and Wisniewski doing sterling work supporting their full-backs as well as getting forwards.
Early chances fell to Gearing after he cut inside and saw a shot blocked, and Taylor, who was tripped just outside the area, with Wisniewski narrowly failing to convert when he met the Gearing free-kick at the near post.
After a threatening Diamonds move had forced their hosts to concede a corner midway through the half, the breakthrough came. Matt Gearing took the corner from the left, and Alex Deakin rose with a glancing header into the roof of the net.
It was credit to Arron Parkinson that it did not look like it was only his second game for the team as he and Deakin were forming a solid partnership in the second period, and he came close to emulating Deakin’s scoring feat as he headed narrowly over the bar from another corner.
Darren Watts in the Rangers goal had a hectic time during the second period, and showed great agility to throw the ball away as he somersaulted outside of his area as he fielded a loose ball under a Diamonds challenge.
The hosts produced little attacking threat in the second period, with the back four ensuring Quincy Shorunmu had a far quieter second half.
Although Mr Martin played three and a half minutes of added time, the Diamonds held on for a valuable win – but know there are still many challenges ahead.
Mark Starmer made it clear after the game how important it will be to focus on the game against Thrapston on Saturday. The Diamonds have still to face their four main opponents for promotion this season, so despite a 100% record during February there are still many challenges ahead for the team in March and beyond.
Diamonds Man-of-the-Match: Quincy Shorunmu
Northampton Sileby Rangers
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Darren Watts
2. Danny Marlow
3. David Glass (Capt)
4. Stuart Smeathers
5. Dan Spaughton
6. Phil Cassidy
7. Mark Redding
8. Jon Crockett
9. Michael Byrne
10. Rob Foster
11. Greg Ling
12. Kevin Slinn (for Marlow 78)
14. Shaun Goodall
15. Dan Chilton
16. Mark Hewitt
17. Michael Keall
17. Quincy Shorunmu
2. Jake Gillingwater
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Arron Parkinson
6. Alex Deakin
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Brad Harris
9. Alfie Taylor (Capt)
10. Jake Newman
11. Matt Gearing
12. Aaron King (for Taylor 86)
13. Ashley Foulger
14. Joe Merrill
15. Ben Morgan (for Gearing 90+2)
16. Deven Ellwood
Goals: Deakin (68)
Yellow Card: Ling
Yellow Cards: Harris, Newman
Referee: Paul Martin
Assistants: Trevor Martin, Craig Buettner
For video highlights and interviews click here.
Images courtesy of Mal Swinden ©2013 Malcolm Swinden Photography
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