Redditch United FC 1-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds took a big step towards reaching the play-offs with victory at mid-table Redditch on Non-League Day.

They took the lead after only seven minutes when Shane Bush’s knockdown was terrifically fired home by Jesse Akubuine, and the hosts continued to struggle with crosses into their box and set-pieces throughout the first half. Captain Alex Collard thumped in a header from Nathan Tshikuna’s corner and, after Liam Dolman had a curling strike held, Collard made it three on the stroke of half-time when he forced a Connor Furlong corner into the net at the back post. Redditch had somehow not scored just before that third goal when Aram Soleman was denied by a combination of Dolman and Paddy Casey, a moment that would prove pivotal.

The home side upped the pressure in the second period, though Diamonds defended well to restrict them to only a few chances and threatened a number of times on the counter-attack. Lauric Diakiesse went close twice and Tshikuna saw a goalbound effort blocked away, with home striker Daniel Sweeney also having an effort deflected wide by Dolman. Redditch pulled a goal back when Ryan Edmunds curled a free-kick in from the right, and they almost had another to set up a grandstand finish when sub Kieron Dawes long-range strike was unbelievably clawed onto the bar by Dean Snedker. Rushden saw out the rest of the game though to move six points clear in fifth place with a game in hand.

First half

Interim manager Andy Burgess made two changes to the side that had drawn at home to Tamworth the previous week. Ben Diamond was unavailable which saw Jesse Akubuine take his place in midfield, and Connor Furlong replaced AJ George who lined up on the substitutes bench alongside recent signings Lewis Johnson and Jordan Graham.

They came into the clash occupying the final play-off spot four points ahead of nearest rivals Alvechurch. Though they hadn’t won either of their last two, their away record was the third best in the division and had won six of their last nine away from Hayden Road. Redditch had lost last time out at Royston but had been previously unbeaten in nine (W5 D4) and hadn’t been defeated in their last five at the Trico Stadium.

Referee Ashley Clarke got the match underway, and the hosts won a couple of early corners that were well dealt with by the Rushden defence. They then broke down the other end and, with their first opportunity, forged into the lead. Sam Warburton got down the left wing before curling a cross into the middle that Shane Bush chested down. It ran for Jesse Akubuine just outside the box to crash a fizzing half-volley past home keeper Kieran Boucher and into the top corner.

It was the perfect start for Diamonds, and they immediately looked to extend the advantage. Another Warburton cross beat Boucher but landed on the roof of the net, and he then launched a long-throw into the area that caused chaos. However, Bush was just unable to turn it home and Clarke awarded a free-kick to the hosts. In between these opportunities Redditch’s Victor Sodeinde volleyed over after Daniel Sweeney’s strike had deflected through to him, and Dean Snedker was alert to catch a dangerous low cross from the right ahead of the lurking Sodeinde.

The entertaining start continued, with Bush chesting down another long-throw before hooking wide of the near post. They didn’t have to wait much longer though as, in the 25th minute, Nathan Tshikuna’s corner from the left found the towering Alex Collard at the back post. His header flew past Boucher and into the net for his sixth goal of the season.

Set-pieces were proving a constant threat to the home backline and, on the half-hour mark, Furlong’s corner from the right led to Bush having an effort blocked before Liam Dolman picked up the loose ball. He cleverly stepped into space before curling towards the far corner, but Boucher read his intention and caught the attempt.

Bush was just then crowded out in the area before Lauric Diakiesse’s looped rebound almost ran favourably for his strike-partner. Moments later, Thsikuna’s corner was headed across and almost ran for Bush, but it was just cleared away at the last moment.

The end of the half was highly dramatic, and arguably proved to be the deciding factor in the match. Sodeinde got in down the left for the hosts and into the box before he played it across and past Snedker. Aram Soleman had most of the net to aim at, but his effort was partially deflected by Dolman and then kicked off the line by Paddy Casey.

Two minutes later, Diamonds punished Redditch for that miss. Furlong swung in a corner from the right that found Alex Collard at the back post, and he poked an effort into the net to give the visitors a commanding lead at the interval.

Half time: Redditch United 0-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Second half

The home side had the majority of the ball and territory at the start of the second period, something that would be the case for much of the 45 minutes. However, Diamonds defended resolutely and always looked a threat on the counter. Firstly Akubuine did excellently to win the ball high up, and Diakiesse’s resulting effort was charged down. Then Tshikuna ran down the left and fed Diakiesse whose cross-shot was parried away by Boucher.

Though the second half was quieter in terms of action, Redditch did fashion some opportunities themselves. One saw Sweeney curl an effort towards the far post that was goalbound, but Dolman importantly deflected it away for a corner that came to nothing. Diamonds then had an effort cleared themselves when Tshikuna cut inside from the left before striking towards goal, but it was kicked away from just ahead of the goal-line.

Burgess made his first two alterations just after the hour mark when Will Jones replaced Diakiesse, and two minutes later Lewis Johnson came on for his debut. The winger was soon involved as he dashed in from the right before playing it across to Tshikuna, but his strike from range was deflected over.

Redditch pulled a goal back twelve minutes from time when Warburton felled Sodeinde just outside the area on the right. Ryan Edmunds stepped up and struck an effort past the wall and Snedker into the bottom corner.

The hosts were understandably buoyed by that strike and looked for another to halve the arrears. Substitute Kieron Dawes ran forward before hitting a fizzing strike from around 25 yards out, but Snedker leapt incredibly to somehow fingertip it onto the bar and the loose ball was cleared away.

That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Redditch, and it was Diamonds who could have added to the scoreline before full-time. Jordan Graham had replaced Bush a few minutes before, and a quick counter-attack saw Jones slide the ball through to the striker. He had plenty of time but couldn’t sort out his feet and get a strike at goal, with the ball bouncing off a defender before it was cleared upfield.

It didn’t matter though as, after three minutes of additional time, Clarke blew his whistle to confirm Rushden’s victory.

Full time: Redditch United 1-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

The damage was done in the first half, with Diamonds showing ruthlessness and a clinical edge to expose and capitalise on Redditch’s struggles at defending set-pieces. They stood strong in the second half against increasing home pressure to limit the amount of shots at goal, and two pivotal moments also went their way – the goal-line clearance at the end of the first half and Snedker’s miraculous save near the end.

With Alvechurch drawing at home to Hitchin, Diamonds are now six points clear in the final play-off spot. Their next match is their game in hand as they travel to Biggleswade Town on Tuesday (29 March, 7.45pm kick-off) in a rearranged game following two previous postponements.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Alex Collard

Attendance: 546

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Redditch United FC: Kieran Boucher, Kieren Donnelly (Kieron Dawes 39), Lewis Hudson, Aram Soleman (Thomas Hewlett 74), Calum Flanagan, Ryan Wollacott, Luke Rowe (Thomas Rankin HT), Daniel Sweeney, Victor Sodeinde, Ryan Edmunds, Jack Byrne (C) (subs not used: Ben Shields, Asa Charlton)

Redditch goal: Edmunds (78)

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle, Dolman, Collard (C), Tshikuna, Akubuine, Bush (Graham 82), Diakiesse (Jones 62), Furlong (George 65) (subs not used: Snelus, George)

Diamonds goals: Akubuine (7), Collard (25, 45+2)