In their 50th Senior Fixture, AFC Rushden & Diamonds progressed to the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup with Budweiser with a 2-1 victory over Northwood of the Southern League Central Division. After weathering an early storm, Alfie Taylor put the Diamonds ahead after 29 minutes, when he slotted home a neat through ball from Joe Merrill. Matt Gearing made it 2-0 six minutes later with one of his trademark right-foot shots from outside the area, after he cut in from the left. The hosts pulled a goal back in the second period through Niko Muir just after the hour mark, but the Diamonds held out to earn a trip to Cockfosters in the next round. That tie is due to be played on the weekend of 14th September.
Mark Starmer made a single change to the line-up that had started the three previous games, with Brad Harris replacing Séan McBride in midfield to take into account the anticipated passing game of the hosts. He named six substitutes as he had done at London Colney. Woods manager Mark Burgess named himself on the bench, as well as welcoming back captain Brad Hewitt to add more height into his backline.
On a pleasant afternoon with an autumnal feel a strong showing from the Diamonds fans inside the neat ground made for an atmosphere of anticipation for both sides.
An early chance for the Diamonds fell to Matt Gearing, after he had won the ball and then received it back from Russ Dunkley, with his effort from the edge of the box saved by keeper Knight low to his right.
The hosts might have taken the lead after 4 minutes when a slip from Alex Deakin allowed Garry Senior to face Tom Cross in a one-on-one, but Cross was able to save the striker’s effort. This signalled a period of Woods’ possession, but the Diamonds had expected their higher ranked opponents to have such periods, and kept their shape. After seven minutes the impressive Jon-Jo Bates got past Sam Brown and saw his shot tipped onto the post, high to his left, by Tom Cross. At the other end Jamal Clarke did well to get his head on a free-kick, but Alex Deakin could not quite prod home.
Perhaps the most impressive Woods player was Joakim Ehui on the right, and his cross after 14 minutes reached Bates whose effort was scrambled away.
Mid-way through the half it became clear that the Diamonds had achieved the containment phase of their game-plan, and they moved up a gear to start threatening the host’s goal, with both full-backs starting to get forward. Brad Harris took advantage of a defender’s slip to slide the ball into Alfie Taylor’s path, and his low ball across the box from the right just needed a touch, but it ran right across the area and away to safety. A Sam Brown throw was then won in the air by Russ Dunkley, resulting in a shot from Joe Merrill that flew over the bar. Taylor saw a shot cleared by Ryan Phillips before Joe Merrill turned provider, when he rolled a neat through ball to Taylor when the defence were expecting another shot. Alfie Taylor coolly ran onto the pass and fired the ball into the far corner of the net, with 29 minutes on the clock.
Jack Wisniewski was continuing to impress with his work-rate and willingness to make positive runs, and he fired a shot that went across the goal from right to left after Dunkley and Taylor had combined to allow Taylor to feed the ball into Wisniewski’s path.
This period of Diamonds’ dominance was rewarded with their second goal after 35 minutes with Russ Dunkley laying the ball into the path of Matt Gearing on the left, who cut inside and hit one of his trademark shots from 25 yards that looked destined for the net the moment he hit it. At this early stage Gearing already has two contenders for Goal of the Season.
Half-Time: Northwood 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Woods’ manager Burgess replaced the ineffective Sprague at half-time with Niko Muir. As expected the hosts picked up their performance after the ineffective second quarter, with Jamal Clarke picking up an early yellow card for a foul on Muir.
Just after the hour mark Northwood got a goal back, with a neat little ball from Ehui finding Niko Muir who gave Cross no chance with his shot on goal.
The Diamonds once again showed their discipline in keeping their shape to allow Woods more of the possession but keeping them away from the danger areas, meaning they resorted to long-range efforts which didn’t trouble Cross.
The biggest scare for the Diamonds came a corner from the right landed on the top of the bar. For the last few minutes the Diamonds had brought on the fresh legs of King and Liburd, and this ensured they had an outlet to get and keep the ball up field, combining with Russ Dunkley to create late chances to make the game safe. Referee Kidd tested the Diamonds’ fans nerves with five added minutes but they kept singing to the final whistle that meant their team had reached the first qualifying round of the FA Cup at the first attempt, defeating a Step 4 team on their home turf.
Full-Time: Northwood 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jamal Clarke
The Diamonds will now travel to face Cockfosters in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round on the weekend of 14th September, but before then they visit Creasey Park to face AFC Dunstable in the FA Vase – see here for the match preview.
The updated fixture list is also available to download on the Fixture News page.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Jake Knight
2. Orlando Rodrigues
3. Ryan Phillips
4. Brad Hewitt (Capt)
5. James Burgess
6. George Nicholas
7. Jon-Jo Bates
8. Craig White
9. Oliver Sprague
10. Garry Senior
11. Joakim Ehui
12. Mark Burgess
14. Danny McDonnell
15. James Duncan
16. Niko Muir (for Sprague HT)
17. Dave Lawrence (for White 53)
18. Aaron McLeish (for Senior 58)
19. Sonny Bailey-Aird
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Alex Deakin
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Elliot Dent
9. Russ Dunkley (Capt)
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Matt Gearing
12. Séan McBride (for Gearing 90+1)
13. Quincy Shorunmu
14. Jake Gillingwater
15. Aaron King (for Dent 75)
16. Nat Liburd (for Taylor 81)
18. Lance Allen
Goals: Muir (61)
Goals: Taylor (29), Gearing (35)
Yellow Cards :
Yellow Cards: Clarke
Referee: Chris Kidd
Assistants: Costa Christodoulou, David Stanley
Video highlights of the game, along with post-match interviews, can be found here