Royston Town FC 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds clinched their third straight away win and moved up to sixth in the table after defeating eighth-placed Royston on Saturday afternoon.

The first half was keenly contested but short on clear-cut chances, with Diamonds coming close when the returning Connor Furlong set up AJ George only for the winger to be denied by a last-ditch challenge. They did take the lead just before the half-hour mark when George and Furlong linked up well again before the latter’s cross found Ty Deacon to head home inside the six-yard box. The hosts threatened with a few corner-kicks and when midfielder Finley Titchmarsh had a couple of efforts, but Rushden made some important blocks and clearances.

Royston started the second half well when Titchmarsh had a strike well saved by Snedker and then striker Adam Murray somehow failed to turn home following a corner. Diamonds established control afterwards though and won a penalty when George was tripped in the midst of a driving run. Nathan Tshikuna stepped up to calmly tuck the penalty home, but the home side were back in it less than five minutes later when Scott Bridges clinically fired home. They then piled on the pressure with a series of long balls and crosses into the area, but Diamonds dealt superbly with everything that was thrown at them to hold on for the victory.

First half

Manager Peaks made one enforced change from the side that had earned a fine victory at Tamworth on Tuesday night. Ravi Shamsi had picked up an injury during that encounter, though he played the full 90 minutes, and he was replaced in the starting XI by Connor Furlong. There was also a welcome return to the squad for Ryan Hughes following his recent injury lay-off.

Rushden came into the contest having won four of their last five away games, though they had only beaten Royston in one of their previous seven meetings. The hosts, nicknamed The Crows, were one place and one point off their opponents and, though they had only lost one of their last five in the league, they had only won one of their previous seven at Garden Walk.

The away side won a deep free-kick inside the opening minute, and George’s delivery found Liam Dolman only for the defender’s flick to run straight through to home keeper Dimitrios Kyriatzis. Royston responded with a few long balls, including a corner that led to Adam Murray heading across goal, though Diamonds did well to clear them all upfield.

Paddy Casey was booked after 15 minutes for stopping a counter-attack, and a minute later home striker Matthew Bateman glanced a header at goal that Snedker comfortably claimed. Diamonds began to have a bit more of the ball, and this led to a good chance when Ben Diamond did well to win the ball in midfield before feeding Furlong running in down the right. His low pull-back ran for George who looked to have a tap-in, but Finley Titchmarsh had tracked the run and made a goal-saving sliding challenge to clear away. Fernando Bell-Toxtle kept the pressure up by having a strike goalwards from range, but it was charged down.

Titchrmarsh was soon involved at the other end as he firstly had two efforts blocked after a strong run forward by full-back Rhamar Garrett-Douglas, and he then struck well over when letting fly from range. The visitors broke which led to them opening the scoring. George did excellently to jink inside and away from a couple of challenges before he cleverly found Furlong on the right. He got to the byline before standing up a precise cross to the back post where Ty Deacon headed home. It was the striker’s fifth goal in his short time at the Diamonds so far, and gave the visitors an all-important lead.

The Crows looked to respond immediately as they advanced down the left, but James Brighton’s strike flew harmlessly over the bar. They particularly threatened from corner-kicks where a throng of players gathered in the six-yard box, but Rushden dealt with these well to avert the danger. Down the other end Deacon almost found Tshikuna through on goal and George had an attempt blocked, but not much further action of note occurred before the half-time whistle was blown.

Half time: Royston Town 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Second half

Royston came close to a leveller only a minute into the second period when a quick attack led to Titchmarsh having a shot across goal well parried behind by Snedker. The resulting corner was well cleared away, and Rushden broke with pace through Diamond as he ran down the right before winning a corner. Furlong’s delivery was punched away before Alex Collard latched onto a loose ball and drilled over.

The quick start to the half continued as Tshkiuna found Furlong on the right, and he cut inside from the right before having a curling strike blocked. The hosts soon threatened at the other end when they won a corner that led to a shot being deflected behind, and that next delivery was flicked on at the near post. It ran across for Murray, but he somehow poked it wide under pressure.

Despite the narrow advantage, Diamonds were looking pretty comfortable and looked likely to add to their solitary goal. Tshikuna had three separate shots blocked or deflected, with the first one running through for Deacon who dinked it over Kyriatzis only for the offside flag to be raised. They won a penalty just after the hour mark when George skipped in from the left and embarked on a powerful run before being brought down in the area. Nathan Tshikuna took responsibility, and he coolly slotted it to the keeper’s right, with Kyriatzis diving the other way, for his fourth goal in his last six matches.

Any thoughts that Rushden had sealed the win with that goal were banished when Royston halved the deficit four minutes later. A long ball forward was flicked on by Murray for the advancing Scott Bridges who swept it into the far corner of the net. He was the man who pulled a goal back following an away penalty in Diamonds’ only previous victory over their opponents, that famous play-off semi-final victory back in April 2016.

Like in that match, the goal signalled a huge amount of home pressure until the final whistle. Winger Isaac Galliford latched onto another flick-on before having a shot deflected behind, Collard then produced a vital sliding block to divert another shot at goal for a corner and the away captain also crucially headed away a dangerous cross in from the right. In between those opportunities Matt Slinn replaced George who had gone down and received treatment.

The hosts were committing more and more men forward which left gaps in behind for Rushden to try and exploit. In one such moment Furlong was released down the right before he cut in but, like many other shots throughout the contest, it was blocked and then cleared away. The dangerous winger was then booked soon afterwards.

Five minutes remained when Royston had a huge appeal for a penalty. Another long ball into the box was flicked on, and it dropped for Murray in the middle of the area. Several Diamonds players rushed out to meet him and, as they tried to stop any effort at goal, the home man went down. Most Royston players surrounded the referee, but he was unmoved and play was waved on.

Home defender Carl Mensah thrashed a volley over the bar, and then Rushden made their second change as Will Jones replaced the excellent Deacon. Five minutes of additional time were signalled, but it was indicative of Diamonds’ defensive display, organisation and togetherness that they saw these out without any alarm. It was the visitors themselves who created the final opportunity as Furlong was denied by a sprawling save, but it didn’t matter as full-time was signalled.

Full time: Royston Town 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

This was Rushden’s seventh win in their last nine league games and again showcased the range of attributes that have been a feature in most of those wins. Clinical attacking play, threat and pace on the counter-attack, industry along with hard-work in midfield, and a stoic defensive effort and application throughout the entire team. They stood up to be counted for in the face of the direct and physical threat from Royston, and made it two excellent away performances in the space of four days.

Their next match will see them on the road again as they travel to face Peterborough Sports on Monday 27 December, 3pm kick-off.

Attendance: 382

Diamonds Man of the Match: Connor Furlong

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle, Dolman, Collard (C), Tshikuna, Diamond, Deacon (Jones 88), George (Slinn 72), Furlong (subs not used: Garwood, Hughes, Nixon)

Diamonds goals: Deacon (28), Tshikuna (pen 62)

Diamonds yellows: Casey (15), Furlong (86)

Royston: Dimitrios Kyriatzis, Carl Mensah, Scott Bridges (Spyros Mentis 70), Adam Murray (C), Ronnie Henry, Finlay Titchmarsh, Matthew Bateman, Isaac Galliford (Marcus Gouldbourne 78), James Brighton, Rhamar Garrett-Douglas (Brandon Adams 67), Daniel Newton (subs not used: Louie Tigwell, Joe Welch)

Royston goals: Bridges (66)

Royston yellows: Brighton (44), Murray (86)