A lacklustre performance from AFC Rushden & Diamonds saw them slip to a 1-0 defeat by Potters Bar Town in Hertfordshire on Saturday afternoon. After the disappointment of defeat by Kings Langley the previous weekend the travelling Diamonds fans would have been expecting far more quality from their side, but instead had to endure a performance that mirrored that when they visited Beaconsfield – the only consolation was this time they only shipped a single goal, but rarely threatened to show their hosts why they arrived at Parkfield leading the Southern League Division One Central. The winning goal came from Scholars’ striker Chris Doyle, who was able to convert a left-wing free-kick 10 minutes before the break. The Diamonds rarely took the game by the scruff of the neck, apart from a short spell shortly after Andy Hall joined the action, when both Hoban and Lorraine might have levelled the game.
Manager Andy Peaks restored January Player of the Month Shawn Richards to the starting line-up at the expense of Andy Hall, with Delroy Gordon having shaken off a knock to continue at right back. Lewis Leslie was able to return to the bench, and Matt Pinder took the final spot on the bench that held five outfielders.
The Parkfield pitch had recovered well from the recent wet weather, with the wet perimeter area showing how much work had been done to ensure the pitch was ready. A cold easterly wind blew across the playing surface meaning there was little shelter for the impressive matchday crowd.
The match started slowly with little penetration by either side, although the hosts showed they were prepared to shoot from distance, with a long-range strike from Billy Adcock forcing a smart save from Matt Finlay who had to tip the dipping shot away for a corner inside the first five minutes.
The first dangerous-looking attack from the visitors saw Jon Stevenson pick up a pass inside the area after a thrusting run from Claudiu Hoban, and he reached the six yard box before squaring for Tom Lorraine, whose effort was blocked. The linesman’s flag halted further attempts to convert the opening.
Finlay had to save again, this time from Chris Doyle, as the Scholars had the lion’s share of the chances, winning a number of corners and free-kicks in dangerous positions. They also presented more of a threat on the flanks, with Luke Hipwell fortunate to escape a booking for an off-the-ball block as Jack Ashton seemed well placed to cover a move down the right.
Apart from a Stevenson effort that was blocked and a Dolman header that was saved there was little action for Scholars’ keeper Goode.
With 10 minutes to go before the break the hosts got their breakthrough. A fairly innocuous break down the left saw Delroy Gordon penalised as he leant into the wide-player. The resultant free-kick found Chris Doyle who had made himself space to flick the ball over Finlay with a collection of players following the ball into the net.
Any thoughts the goal might prove a wake-up call were quickly quashed as the Diamonds players continued to struggle to find a rhythm, and their link-up play was very disappointing, looking more typical of a recently assembled team rather than a well-established group containing many of the players that had been involved with such an impressive performance against St Ives less than two weeks earlier – or indeed the trip to Aylesbury FC in January. Perhaps this is the most puzzling aspect of the recent poor run.
Half Time: Potters Bar Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
The pace of the game in the second period was really disappointing, with little to suggest that the Diamonds were chasing an equaliser in order to help erase some of the memories of their performance the previous weekend. The hosts were happy to see the stalemate, as they held the advantage, and as a result there was very little of any quality to report, and some of the misplaced passes, mishit shots and poor crosses are best left unrecorded.
It was only when Andy Hall joined the action as the Diamonds second substitute that there was a sign of increased tempo, that coming shortly after the hosts could easily have doubled their lead when Jack Lyons broke clear on the left, beating the Diamonds offside trap, but he was unable to convert the chance.
Hall quickly produced the most penetrating pass of the game, as he linked with Jon Stevenson, who in turn set up Tom Lorraine for a chance that he fired over. Claudiu Hoban then started to run at the defence with more purpose down the left, and he was able to get in a low shot, well-saved by Goode. A second chance for Hoban quickly followed as the Diamonds looked like they might finally start to threaten the home goal on a regular basis.
Tom Lorraine appeared fortunate to escape a second yellow card as he protested the award of a throw-in, perhaps as he felt he might have been rather better protected from a number of challenges during some clever defending by the home side.
The Diamonds were forced into a final change as Dan Quigley picked up a knock, with Matt Pinder joining the action, but the hosts quickly adjusted their formation accordingly and were able to see out the game without further threat on their goal.
Full-Time: Potters Bar Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
Last weekend’s result was filed under the ‘bad day at the office’ category for the Diamonds, but that was against a side challenging for the league title, whereas the performances on the road against Beaconsfield and Potters Bar have led to concerns that the side has lost the sort of consistency that was a key characteristic of their early season performances.
They now have a week to prepare for the visit of Barton Rovers to the Dog & Duck, knowing that their league title challenge is faltering, but also considering there are nine teams in contention for the four playoff spots and all of the other eight teams have played fewer games.
Potters Bar Town
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Ben Goode
2. Dave Lawrence
3. Luke Warner-Eley
4. Garry Jones (C)
5. Sean Grace
6. Jordan Lawal
7. Joe Bennett
8. Billy Adcock
9. Eion Casey
10. Chris Doyle
11. Jack Lyons
12. Jerry Maja
13. Connor Ansom
14. Ashley Nathaniel-George
15. Will Wambeek
16. Karim Aissaoui (for Lawal H/T)
17. Matt Finlay
2. Delroy Gordon
3. Luke Hipwell
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Brad Harris
7. Shawn Richards
8. Dan Quigley
9. Jon Stevenson
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Claudiu Hoban
12. Andy Hall (for Hipwell 70)
13. Matt Pinder (for Quigley 80)
14. Lewis Leslie (for Richards 58)
15. Ollie Wilkinson
16. Connor Kennedy
Goals: Doyle (36)
Yellow Cards: Lawrence
Yellow Cards: Lorraine
Referee: Lee Forrester
Assistant Referees: Ian Stewart, James Killen