AFC Rushden & Diamonds produced one of their best performances of the season to win 3-0 against Northampton Spencer at Kingsthorpe Mill on Saturday afternoon and clinch promotion to the ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Premier Division.
In the process they extended their unbeaten run to 22 games, and maintained their record of scoring in every senior game they have played. There is still a chance the Diamonds might also win the UCL Division 1 title, if nearest rivals Northampton Sileby Rangers fail to gain the point they need when they face Wellingborough Whitworth at Victoria Mill on Tuesday evening.
A first half headed goal from Chris Hope helped to calm the nerves of the Diamonds fans, and then further goals from Matt Gearing and Alex Deakin in the second period meant that the Diamonds fans and players could celebrate that they have earned promotion in their first season of senior football.
There were a few surprises with the line-up that Diamonds manager Mark Starmer was able to name for this game. With Joe Merrill joining Jake Gillingwater and Arron Parkinson on the sidelines, the shortage of defenders was made worse by the fact that Brad Harris was needed for a holding midfield role, as Séan McBride had not recovered from his midweek knock. That meant that Jack Wisniewski was pressed into an emergency right-back role, with Lance Allen taking his place in right midfield. Matt Gearing returned to his left midfield role as the Diamonds reverted to a 4-4-2 formation. Peter Okechukwu earned a surprise recall to the Diamonds bench after not having featured since the middle of January. Séan McBride was included on the bench to allow the Diamonds to name five substitutes, but his ligament injury meant he could only hobble around the pitch during the warm-up.
An earlier storm had passed over Kingsthorpe Mill meaning the impressive crowd of over 800 could spread out around the ground.
Although the Diamonds had perhaps looked rather nervous in recent games, there was little sign of any caution during the opening exchanges, with the experience of Hope and Deakin ensuring that Jack Wisniewski settled quickly into his unfamiliar role. An early chance fell to Jake Newman, who made himself space towards the corner of the area, but shot over when he might have taken another touch, or found Alfie Taylor who had run into the area. After 11 minutes Newman almost opened the scoring when Chris Hope and Jack Wisniewski did well to set him free on a run that allowed him to move the ball onto his left foot but his effort flashed back off the crossbar with help from the Millers’ keeper Lutter.
Tom Cross continued to look assured in the Diamonds goal, with a couple of good catches of well-hit shots, as well as excellent distribution. The Millers also saw a couple of efforts fly high or wide, as did the Diamonds, as the pitch produced a number of awkward bounces.
Chris Hope saw a low freekick saved by Lutter, and a Gearing freekick was headed wide by the Diamonds captain before Jake Newman overran a chance after good work from Brown and Gearing on the left. Brad Harris went close to opening his account for the Diamonds with a shot that went just over.
After 38 minutes the Diamonds got the breakthrough that their play deserved. Taylor and Wisniewski combined well on the right, forcing a corner, and a well hit corner by Matt Gearing was met by the head of Chris Hope towards the left side of the six-yard box, and the header found the net despite the efforts of a defender near the goalline.
There was one final scare for the Diamonds in the half, with a strong run from Ashley Simpson on the left seeing him dart past the Diamonds midfield and into the area, but his effort flew over the bar.
Half-Time: Northampton Spencer 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
With news that Oadby Town had a 2-0 lead at half-time it was important that the Diamonds consolidated their lead and avoided any risks of a comeback from the Millers – and that is exactly what they did. An early break involving Brown and Taylor saw Jake Newman pick up the ball towards the left corner of the area, but his effort was just wide of keeper Lutter’s near post. Matt Gearing was having an excellent game, and his 1-2 with Alfie Taylor forced a defensive panic and a skewed clearance for a corner. The resultant corner was cleared off the line.
With an hour on the clock the Diamonds made the game, and their promotion challenge, safe. The ball was laid back by Alex Deakin to Matt Gearing and his shot from 25 yards left keeper Lutter flat-footed as it powered into the net.
Jack Wisniewski was able to get forward more in the second period, and he and Alfie Taylor were able to engineer the space for a cross after a partially cleared corner to get in a cross that Alex Deakin headed home to make it 3-0.
The remainder of the game was played out with little incident as both sides used up their full complement of substitutes, with the Diamonds able to give match-time to three of the players who had started the season in the first team but whose seasons had been affected by injury issues – Deven Ellwood, Elliot Dent and Quincy Shorunmu.
The final whistle signalled celebrations all around the ground as the Diamonds Management, players and fans celebrated their promotion, not only as it came at the end of their first senior season, but also that it was gained in their last game of the season after a 22-game unbeaten run.
Full-Time: Northampton Spencer 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3
With the Diamonds season now over, there is one last game of interest, when Northampton Sileby Rangers can claim the UCL Division One title with a point at Wellingborough Whitworth on Tuesday evening, but a Rangers defeat will mean that the Diamonds also claim the league title.
The current UCL League Table can be found on the AFC Diamonds website here, and the season’s final Match Stats and Player Stats, along with a Form Guide and Attendance figures are found in the summary stats area here. The player stats in their individual profiles have also been updated.
Diamonds Man Of The Match: Matt Gearing.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Stuart Lutter
2. Josh Melling
3. Greg Palmer
4. Darren Jones
5. Dan Stevenson
6. Lee Unwin
7. Matt Long
8. Luke Stone
9. Paul Pickering (Capt)
10. Luke Bartley
11. Ashley Simpson
12. Jack Bartley (for Melling 75)
14. Craig Sampson (for Palmer 59)
15. Liam Tuck (for Pickering 63)
16. Curtis Avery
17. Jake Stone
17. Tom Cross
2. Lance Allen
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Chris Hope (Capt)
6. Alex Deakin
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Aaron King
9. Alfie Taylor
10. Jake Newman
11. Matt Gearing
12. Peter Okechukwu
13. Quincy Shorunmu (for Cross 85)
14. Deven Ellwood (for Newman 74)
15. Elliot Dent (for Allen 79)
16. Séan McBride
Goals: Hope (38), Gearing (60), Deakin (66)
Yellow Cards : None
Yellow Cards: Wisniewski
Referee: Abdul Kadir
Assistants: Robert Porter, Christopher Watkins
For match highlights and post-match celebrations / interviews click here.
Images courtesy of Mal Swinden. Copyright ©2013 Malcolm Swinden Photography
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