Diamonds fought back twice to claim a draw at Redditch on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors started well and went close through Tom Lorraine’s low shot that was saved, and a Sam Brown free header that flew over the bar. Redditch responded through George Washbourne’s effort that was well held by Ben Heath, and then Ahmed Ali curled over from inside the area. However, they took the lead in the 26th minute when a dangerous ball in dropped for Harry Franklin to slam a low effort past the helpless Heath. They should have extended their advantage when firstly Micah Jebbison headed over from point-blank range, and then when Harry White broke through on goal only for his shot across goal to fly wide. Diamonds almost levelled when Ben Farrell had an effort excellently saved, but they did draw level in stoppage-time at the end of the half. A long throw by Brown was missed by the keeper, and Rogers headed it goalwards only for a covering defender to head it away on the line. The linesman judged it had crossed the line though, and Diamonds were back on terms.
The early exchanges of the second half were relatively quiet and, in the first real opening of the half, the home side restored their lead. A dangerous drilled cross from the right found captain Andrew Parsons, and he powered a header past Heath despite the keeper getting a leg to the effort. Diamonds almost equalised soon afterwards when Albie Hopkins saw an effort well tipped round the post, and their increased pressure the longer the game went on was rewarded with another equaliser ten minutes from time. A teasing delivery from the left found Ben Diamond who expertly glanced a header up and over the scrambling keeper into the far corner of the goal. Both sides could have won it, the hosts when substitute Mitchell Piggon couldn’t get a shot off in the area and the Diamonds in the final minite of stoppage-time when an Alex Collard header pinballed around the area before being hacked to safety. A draw was a fair result on the balance of play though, and it extends Diamonds’ unbeaten league run to five games as they head further into the busy festive period.
Manager Andy Peaks made just the solitary change to the starting XI that had began the draw at fellow play-off contenders Alvechurch two weeks ago. Ben Diamond returned from his one match suspension to take the place of John Dean, and also returning from suspension was Jack Westbrook. He took a place on the substitutes bench alongside Nathan Pickworth, Joe Curtis, Sam Johnson and Dean.
The two teams entered onto the 3G playing surface at the Trico Stadium on an overcast afternoon, and the sides had had differing fortunes leading up to the encounter. Redditch entered the match 18th in the table, and they had lost their previous three league games. They had also not won any of their last five league matches, and had only won one of their last seven. However, their home record had seen them pick up four wins already this season, and they had scored in all but one of their home matches so far. Diamonds came into the match 4th in the table and having been unbeaten in their last four league games. They also had only lost one of their last seven in the league, and had only lost one of their last six away league encounters. However, a tough test lie ahead and, after the players had shaken hands and the coin-toss had been conducted by the respective captains, referee Simon Barron got the game underway.
The early exchanges were played at a quick tempo as both teams looked to establish an early advantage. Only a minute had elapsed when home full-back Jamie Ashmore got down the right before delivering a dangerous cross that went over everybody. Play swept down the other end, and Tom Lorraine latched onto a flick in behind the Redditch defence only for his effort to be held well by debutant Adam Whitehouse in the hosts’ goal. Seconds later George Washbourne cut in from the right and flashed a low effort towards goal, and Ben Heath was forced to parry it around the post.
The visitors then won a free-kick after the referee pulled play back for an earlier infringement on Nathan Hicks, and the subsequent delivery found the leaping Alex Collard only for his header to drift wide of the post. In the 7th minute another headed opportunity was created when Diamonds won their first corner of the game. Declan Rogers drilled in the delivery from the left, and it found the perfectly timed run of Sam Brown with a free header. However, the ball did zip through to him quickly, and as a result his header went over the bar.
The left-back was involved again only a minute later when he demonstrated sharp thinking to launch a quick throw in behind the home backline for Lorraine to run onto, but a covering defender did excellently to stretch and head the ball back to his keeper.
Rushden were the ones who were looking more likely and who were threatening when running at the home defence, and they fashioned another opening in the 10th minute when Hicks cross on the right wing was blocked behind for a corner. Rogers’ delivery found Collard with a jump on his marker, but the header drifted wide of the goal. Zack Reynolds then made a crucial interception to stop the ball being played in behind him for a home winger to run onto, and he set Diamonds back up on the offensive. Rogers picked up possession and drove towards the home defence before launching a long-range effort goalwards, but it flew over the bar.
Redditch had been under pressure for most of the opening exchanges, but they broke away to test Heath soon afterwards. Washbourne latched onto a loose away pass before running forward and shooting from around 25 yards out, but Heath was able to get his body behind the ball and to hold onto the effort. Two minutes later they had a good chance to take the lead when a move down the right saw the ball cut back to Ahmed Ali in plenty of space in the area, but he leant back and his curling shot went comfortably over. Shortly after that a home midfielder took aim from over 30 yards out, but the effort was always rising and it flew well over the crossbar.
Compared to the entertaining and fast-paced opening twenty minutes, the next five minutes were largely uneventful. Diamonds won a corner on the left after Brown’s cross was blocked behind, and despite the keeper missing his attempted punch from the set-piece, the ball was cleared away to safety. Albie Hopkins also had a dangerous cross well headed away, but moments later the hosts took the lead. A long free-kick from near the halfway line wasn’t fully cleared by the Diamonds defence, and the ball was headed back into the area for Harry Franklin to hook an effort past Heath and into the back of the net.
Redditch now had their tails up and had momentum, and they continued to threaten as they looked to add to their lead. In the 34th minute they won a corner on the right, and the dangerous delivery almost fell for a home man only for the visitors to clear the danger away. Two minutes later a long throw from the right was flicked on by Ali, and Micah Jebbison met it with a free header in the six-yard box. However, the header flew over the bar, and Diamonds had been given a let-off.
The visitors used this as inspiration to get back on the front foot in their search for an equaliser, and Diamond set off on a driving run through the middle of the pitch only to be brought down by Washbourne. He received the first yellow card of the match, and the resulting free-kick was laid short to Ben Farrell who slammed an effort at goal, but it flashed wide of the post.
Diamond was involved again a few minutes later when Reynolds led a counter-attack, and he found Diamond on the left with supporting men getting into the area. However, his attempted cross was cut out. They managed to win a corner in the end though, and the subsequent delivery was headed out to Farrell whose effort flew narrowly over the bar.
It was a frantic end to the half, with chances aplenty. One minute after his previous effort, Farrell had another opportunity. A long volleyed ball over the top by Farrell found Diamond down the left, and the striker galloped to keep it in play before turning at the byline and looking for support. He laid it towards the edge of the box, and it ran for Farrell who struck an effort goalwards. However, Whitehouse flung himself to his right and superbly parried the ball round the post to preserve his side’s lead. The following corner found Brown, but his header flew over the bar.
Then on the stroke of half-time Redditch should have extended their lead. A long goal-kick was flicked on by Ali for striker Harry White to latch onto in behind the Diamonds defence and to find himself clean through on goal. He ran into the right side of the area before shooting across Heath, but his effort went wide of the far post.
The hosts were made to regret this miss when Diamonds levelled two minutes into stoppage-time. They won a throw-in on the right, and Brown trotted across to take it. He dispatched it into the area, and Whitehouse came out only to completely miss the ball. It bounced through for the nearby Declan Rogers, and his header towards goal was headed away by a covering defender on the line. However, the linesman raised and waved his flag, and the referee immediately blew his whistle to signal that the ball had crossed the line and that Diamonds had equalised. It was Rogers’ fourth goal of the season, and was a perfect time to score on the cusp of the interval.
Moments later the referee signalled the end of the half, one that had been action-packed and full of chances for both sides, and one that had been thoroughly entertaining.
Half Time: Redditch United 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Much of the half-time talk centred around if the same intensity levels of the first half could be maintained in the second, and who would be able to score the all-important next goal. Both sets of players soon emerged from the changing rooms and, after a quick count, the referee blew to get the match back underway.
Diamonds made a good start and threatened within a couple of minutes. Rogers almost broke into the area only to be tackled as he advanced, but they attacked again and earnt a free-kick in a central position after Lorraine was pushed in the back. Hicks dinked the ball into the area, and Lorraine’s header across was headed away against another home man. Appeals went up for a handball, but the referee waved away the appeals. Redditch sprung on the counter-attack, and Jebbison was fed on the right before lashing a shot high and wide.
This spurred the hosts into creating a couple of further opportunities. Firstly Franklin found room from over 30 yards out to strike an effort towards goal, but it flew comfortably over the bar. Then moments later Washbourne did well to skip away from a couple of challenges before shooting from outside the area, but the effort was weak and rolled gently wide of the target.
The end-to-end nature of the first half was continuing in the early stages of the second period, and so Diamonds were the next to go close. Hopkins received the ball on the right before jinking down the line and driving a cross towards the back post. Lorraine met it on the volley, but it went way over the bar.
The home side had been building up a little spell of pressure prior to this chance, and in the 57th minute this paid off as they regained their lead. An initial corner was well cleared away, but it led to a second corner soon afterwards. This was also cleared, but they recycled possession out to the right wing where a dangerous drilled cross found captain Andrew Parsons to head past Heath. The Diamonds keeper got a trailing leg onto the ball, but it wasn’t enough to stop the header rolling into the back of the net to put Redditch ahead again.
The visitors looked for an immediate response, and almost had it five minutes after falling behind again. A cross from the left was headed away but the hosts then lost possession, and Farrell slipped a neat ball through for Lorraine. He was tackled as he attempted to roll the defender, but the loose ball ran for the alert Hopkins, and he curled a low shot towards the far post that Whitehouse brilliantly got down to tip it around the post. The resulting corner saw a home defender and Collard challenge but go down as a result of the aerial duel. Both physios came on to treat the respective players, and after a few minutes of treatment both players were up and okay to continue.
Diamonds continued to press as Redditch began to drop a little deeper and to play more on the counter-attack. In the 67th minute a Brown long throw was well flicked on by Collard, but it ran past everyone and out for a goal-kick. Two minutes later the same result occurred after a long Rogers free-kick was flicked on by Lorraine. The hosts still looked lively and bright on the counter though, and one such break saw Washbourne jink into space before his goalbound shot was deflected through for Heath to easily gather.
Collard then made a vital interception on the edge of his own area to stop a through ball finding an advancing red shirt, and then Peaks made his first substitutions of the match. Sam Johnson and John Dean replaced Farrell and Hopkins which saw both players go out wide, meaning Diamond moved inside to partner Lorraine in a more central role. The changes galvanised the visitors and injected further pace into their attack, with Dean threatening down the left on a couple of occasions leading to a long throw-in that Whitehouse was able to punch clear. However, possession was seized again by Diamonds on the left, and Rogers advanced before curling a cross in towards the near post. Ben Diamond was free, and he brilliantly flicked a header towards the far post that looped up and over Whitehouse and into the back of the net.
This second equaliser for the visitors set up an intriguing final ten minutes as both sides strived for a winning goal. The hosts threatened only two minutes after Diamond’s goal when as a ball in from the right found substitute Mitchell Piggon with his back to goal in the area and, though he controlled well and turned to shoot, his shot was well blocked by Collard. He then tried to generate some room only to go down looking for a penalty, but the referee immediately blew his whistle and issued the striker with a yellow card for diving. Moments later a long ball forward for Rushden was well flicked on by Lorraine, and it looked like it would release the onrushing Diamond through on goal. However, a covering defender intercepted just in the nick of time, and the danger was cleared away.
Peaks then made his final substitution of the encounter as Jack Westbrook came on in place of the busy Hicks. Redditch won a free-kick just inside the Diamonds half, but the long delivery skimmed off a home head and out for a goal-kick. Three minutes of additional time were then signalled by the fourth official, and in the first of these the away side won a long throw-in opportunity on the right. Brown trotted across to take it, but the delivery was well headed away by the home defnce before Brown’s attempted cross back in was blocked away.
There remained time for one final opportunity, and one final piece of drama. In the 92nd minute Diamonds won a corner on the left, and Rogers drilled the set-piece in towards the back post. Collard got up well to head it goalwards, and it dropped for Diamond near the line. He had a marker close to him so he backheeled it across the six-yard box, but it ran straight to a Redditch defender who looked like he would clear easily. However, his panicked clearance smacked into a fellow player and dropped for Collard only yards out, but his effort was superbly blocked by a combination of home defenders throwing themselves in front of the ball. The ball ricocheted out to Lorraine who hit goalwards but that was blocked also, and then Redditch desperately hacked the ball away. It ran for Rogers on the left who had an effort blocked behind for a corner, but there was no enough time to take it as the referee blew for full-time. It had been an engrossing and highly entertaining game, and one that had been tremendously topsy-turvy.
Full Time: Redditch United 2-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Diamonds came so close to nicking a victory in stoppage-time, but a draw was a fair result on the whole. For large parts of the game Redditch belied their recent poor form as they regularly threatened and attacked with pace and, if they had have taken one of their chances to make it 2-0 in the first half, then the result could have been very different. Rushden showed the terrific character and spirit within the squad as they fought back twice despite not playing at their best, and they extended their unbeaten run in the league to five matches. They have dropped out of the top five on goal difference, but if any player, member of the coaching staff or fan had been offered this position at the start of the season heading into Christmas, then most if not all would have taken it. The busy festive period continues as they return to Hayden Road to take on St Neots Town on Boxing Day, 3:00pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Nathan Hicks
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Adam Whitehouse
2. Jamie Ashmore
3. Sam Tye
4. Harry Franklin
5. Andrew Parsons (C)
6. Robert Evans
7. Ahmed Ali
8. Robbie Bunn
9. Harry White
10. George Washbourne
11. Micah Jebbison
12. Max Loveridge
14. Leam Howards (for Jebbison 67)
15. David Reynolds
16. Mitchell Piggon (for White 76)
17. Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Blaize Punter
5. Alex Collard
6. Declan Rogers
7. Albie Hopkins
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean (for Hopkins 76)
14. Jack Westbrook (for Hicks 88)
15. Joe Curtis
16. Sam Johnson (for Farrell 76)
17. Nathan Pickworth
Goals: Franklin (28), Parsons (57)
Goals: Rogers (45+2), Diamond (81)
Yellow cards: Washbourne (39), Piggon (83)
Yellow cards: None
Referee: Simon Barron
Assistants: Daniel Clenton, Peter Woodfield