Diamonds were consigned to a narrow league defeat at Royston Town on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides threatened in a quick start to the game, with the hosts hitting three efforts over the bar when well placed and Jack Bowen down the other end latching onto an Albie Hopkins flick-on to run through on goal only to hit his shot straight at the keeper. Royston drew first blood in the 15th minute when a curling free-kick found the rising Adam Murray to power a header past the helpless Ben Heath and into the back of the net. The rest of the half was also played at a fast and often frenetic pace and tempo, and Diamonds responded to the setback by beginning to dictate possession and territory in their search for an equaliser. The hosts came closest to the next goal though when a neat through-ball found Josh Castiglione running through on goal, but he seemed to think he was offside and so he tamely shot wide to the post much to the relief of the Diamonds with no flag having been raised. Rushden threatened through Bowen seeing a header easily saved by the keeper, a volley from a narrow angle that flew high and wide of the target, and a free-kick deflected away for a corner, but Royston still held the lead at half-time.
Diamonds began the second half largely in control as they pushed for an equalising goal and, after a loose ball almost fell for Lorraine in the opening few seconds of the half and following a Bowen header that drifted wide, they did level on the hour mark. A deep cross from Sam Brown ran for Hopkins to play back to Ben Farrell, and his first-time cross found Jack Bowen. The striker’s initial effort was superbly saved but he gleefully swept home the rebound to level proceedings. However, the hosts retook the lead only a minute later. A long ball forward found Murray running in on the left side of the area, and his poked effort across goal flicked the post before the rebound from Vance Bola was brilliantly kicked away by Heath on the line. It fell for Sam Corcoran whose first strike was magnificently blocked by Liam Dolman, but it sat up again for the home striker to smash the loose ball into the far corner of the net. Rushden came so close to equalising again only moments later when a Hopkins free-kick found the head of Dolman to flick towards the far corner, but the Royston keeper dived and leapt up to tip the effort miraculously around the post. The away pressure intensified as Bowen’s flick-on was met by Tom Lorraine at the far post only for his volley from point-blank range to fly over, but the offside flag was raised. Royston began to have more counter-attacking opportunities with the game becoming more stretched as the time went on, and a couple of efforts required Heath to make saves. Aside from these moments the visitors were the ones dominating possession and territory as they searched for another leveller but, despite a number of crosses into the area and although Bowen threatened with some flick-ons, they couldn’t find a way through the resolute home defence as Royston saw out the rest of the game for the victory.
Manager Andy Peaks made three changes to the starting XI that had been defeated in the FA Cup last Saturday. Zack Reynolds came into the side at right-back for the unavailable Callum Westwood, Albie Hopkins replaced Dan Clifton to slot in on the left wing and Jack Bowen joined Tom Lorraine up front, which allowed Ben Diamond to shift across the right flank in an initial conventional 4-4-2 formation.
The two teams took to the Garden Walk playing surface, with many Diamonds memories flashing back to the previous encounter in April 2016 in the Southern League Division One Central Play-Off Semi-Final that they famously won 2-1; a match that will truly never be forgotten. Rushden came into the contest 12th in the table and having lost two of their three away league games so far at the new level, whilst Royston had had an excellent first season at Step Three last year in finishing 7th and were currently one place above Diamonds in the table. However they had not won a home game or kept a home clean sheet so far this campaign and so, given the previous encounters between the two and the proximity between them in the table, an intriguing encounter lay ahead. After the sides had shaken hands and referee Jack Bloxham had conducted the coin-toss with both captains, the whistle was sounded for kick-off.
Less than a minute had elapsed when the hosts, nicknamed the Crows, created their first opportunity. A throw-in from the left was flicked on for an onrushing midfielder to run onto just outside the area, but the subsequent effort was wild and flew well over the crossbar. Moments later a similar chance was fashioned as Charley O’Keefe shot at goal, but the end result was the same as the attempt flashed harmlessly over the top of Ben Heath’s goal. Diamonds responded and, after Jack Bowen had flicked on a Sam Brown long-throw only for it to run to a Royston defender to clear, they had a great chance to open the scoring. In the sixth minute Hopkins flicked the ball into the path of Bowen who got to it ahead of the dawdling defender and knocked it ahead into the area to be through on goal. He composed himself before sidefooting an effort towards goal, but home keeper Joe Welch read the effort and gathered the ball at the second attempt.
It was a quick and energetic start with both sides looking to get on the front foot, and the Crows had the next chance shortly before the tenth minute. A slip by Liam Dolman in the middle of the pitch allowed a break forward that saw a three-on-two situation in the hosts’ favour, but Adam Murray blazed his shot over the bar from the edge of the area. However, shortly afterwards the home side did take the lead. Hopkins fouled the advancing Callum Ellesley, and the deep free-kick by Jordan Norville-Williams found the rising Adam Murray who thundered a header past the helpless Heath from close-range.
The Crows deserved the lead for their bright and enterprising approach to the early exchanges, and Diamonds searched for a way back into the contest. A couple of attacks saw Brown firstly get down the right flank before his teasing cross was well collected by the keeper, and then Bowen met a Dolman cross only for the header to lack power meaning Welch could easily hold onto the effort. On the whole the visitors were having more possession and territory, but were ultimately struggling to create a consistent spell of pressure or clear-cut opportunities to truly threaten the home backline.
The hosts were the next ones to threaten in the 34th minute. A precise through ball cut through the heart of the Diamonds defence and found the onrushing Josh Castiglione. Despite appeals for offside the flag stayed down, but the home number seven seemed to think he was offside as he slipped a meek effort past the far post. It was a superb opportunity, and represented a big let-off for the visitors. Shortly after play swung up the other end and the dangerous Bowen managed to find some space to meet a dropping ball with a vicious half-volley, but from a narrow angle the shot flew well over the bar. The striker had a further opportunity when Diamonds won a free-kick around 25 yards from goal and Bowen stepped up to strike, but his low effort was deflected away for a corner which saw Dolman impede his marker and the danger was averted.
The remaining minutes passed without any further action of note, and the referee blew his whistle on a 45 minutes that had seen the hosts start the better and take the lead before Diamonds started to get back into the match without creating many clear opportunities.
Half Time: Royston Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
During the half-time interval thoughts largely centred around if Diamonds would be able to increase their pressure and find an equaliser in the second half, and how the hosts would approach the game being one goal to the good. Both sets of players emerged from the changing rooms and, after a quick count of both sides, the referee got the contest underway again.
The visitors began with purpose and on the front foot as they looked for a leveller early in the half, and in the 52nd minute they had an opportunity. Castiglione was penalised and given a yellow card for a push on the Diamonds right, and Hopkins drilled the free-kick towards the back post for the rising Bowen. Unfortunately for Rushden however, the striker’s header drifted wide of the upright. Like in the last 15 minutes of the opening period they were having the better of possession and momentum as they regularly forced the hosts onto the defensive, and their pressure paid dividends on the hour mark. A deep cross from Brown on the left went over everybody for Hopkins to collect on the right just outside the box, and he calmly played the ball back for Farrell to sweep a low first-time cross into the area. It found the free Jack Bowen whose first attempt was instinctively saved by Welch, but the striker gleefully dispatched the rebound to level the game.
A well-known football cliché states that you are at your most vulnerable just after scoring, and so this proved as Royston swept straight up the other end from the restart. Norville-Williams played a long ball over the top of the Diamonds defence for goalscorer Murray to run onto in the left side of the box, and his poked effort towards the far corner hit the post. It rebounded out for Vance Bola who shot goalwards only for Heath to kick the ball off the line, and it ran to Sam Corcoran whose first effort was superbly blocked by a sliding Dolman. However, the loose ball ricocheted kindly back to the striker, and he struck a fierce half-volley that flew past the diving Heath and nestled into the back of the net.
In a frenetic and action-packed few minutes Diamonds then came mightily close to grabbing another equaliser. Hopkins won a free-kick on the right, in a similar position that led to Royston’s first goal, and the visiting number 11 curled a teasing delivery into the middle of the area. It was perfect for Dolman to arch his neck muscles and send a flicked header towards the far top corner, and it looked for all the world that it would fly into the net until a diving Welch leapt to brilliantly tip the effort round the post one-handed. It was a fantastic save, and one that drew a couple of congratulatory slaps on the back from his teammates.
Bowen had been at the centre of most Rushden attacks throughout the contest, and he was involved again in the 69th minute. He drew a free-kick close to the right touchline and corner flag, and he quickly picked himself up to make a swift pass into the feet of the galloping Zack Reynolds. The full-back advanced into the penalty area and drove an effort towards the near post, but it hit the side-netting. Three minutes later Diamonds again threatened as Bowen rose to meet a drilled ball into the area from the left, and he flicked it on to Tom Lorraine at the back post who had the run on Norville-Williams. However, from point-blank range the club’s all-time top goalscorer fired over the bar, though the offside flag was raised against the striker.
Royston still looked a danger from time to time on the counter-attack as Rushden began to commit more men forward and take more risks the longer the half went on, and the away side began to dominate the ball and territory even more than before. However, the Crows defended stoutly in winning a number of important headers and interceptions, and aside from the aforementioned flurry of chances they were largely keeping Diamonds at arms length in terms of chances at goal. The game entered the final ten minutes of regulation time, and Peaks summoned Ty Ward and John Dean to replace Lorraine and Hopkins. They were straight into the action with their direct and quick running, and the former embarked on such a run down the left side before his flashing cross almost found Bowen only for the keeper to collect just ahead of the Diamonds goalscorer.
Nathan Hicks replaced Ben Farrell in the 85th minute in the visitors’ final substitution and, though the game was being played almost entirely in the hosts’ half at this stage, Rushden were still struggling to find a way through the well-marshalled defence. A number of attempted through balls, crosses into the area and long balls looking for a Bowen flick were repelled by the Crows, and Dolman was sent forward when four minutes of additional time was signalled in a last-gasp attempt to salvage a draw. In the fourth added minute one final chance was created as Heath launched a long ball into the area from deep, and Bowen did superbly to rise and flick a header further into the area. However, it didn’t run for a Diamonds man and instead rolled straight through for Welch to collect.
No sooner had the Royston keeper drop-kicked the ball high into the sky referee Bloxham blew the full-time whistle, and to signal the end of a game in which, though an even affair for large spells, Royston had clinically taken their chances and then defended solidly to claim the victory.
Full Time: Royston Town 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This represented a disappointing loss for Diamonds as on another day they would have grabbed a point. As mentioned the game was relatively even, with both sides shading and having the better of certain spells, but the hosts capitalised on a couple of mistakes in the Diamonds defence and took their chances when they arrived. Rushden came close to levelling through Dolman and Lorraine, but such fine margins often decide games and so it proved in this encounter. Credit must go to Royston for their defensive performance in restricting Diamonds for much of the game, and for their attacking performance also, as they claim their first home win of the season. As in Rushden’s other league defeats this campaign there were some positives to take forward into future fixtures, though they are not back in league action for a couple of weeks. Their next match sees them travel to take on Peterborough Northern Star in the NFA Hillier Cup First Round on Tuesday September 18th, 19:45pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Joe Welch
2. Callum Ellesley
3. Jordan Norville-Williams
4. Spyros Mentis
5. Adam Murray (C)
6. Charley O’ Keefe
7. Josh Castiglione
8. Gus Scott-Morriss
9. Vance Bola
10. Sam Corcoran
11. Ben Martin
12. Rohdell Gordon (for Castiglione 53)
14. James Potton (for Corcoran 69)
15. Romelle Alomenu
16. Bradley Bell (for Bola 77)
17. Harry Smart
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Blaize Punter
7. Jack Bowen
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Albie Hopkins
12. John Dean (for Hopkins 80)
14. Ty Ward (for Lorraine 80)
15. Nathan Hicks (for Farrell 85)
16. Joel Gyasi
18. Dan Clifton
Goals: Murray (15), Corcoran (61)
Goals: Bowen (60)
Yellow Cards: Castiglione (52), Ellesley (57), Potton (87), Bell (90+4)
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Jack Bloxham
Assistants: James Kerten, Elliott Mayer