Diamonds earned a point on Tuesday night with a 63rd minute Nic Evangelinos equaliser against struggling Rugby Town to make it 7 points from a run of 3 tough away games.
Defensive shuffles before the game saw Brad Harris play at right back and Kyal Mcnulty at left back with Richard Bunting making his 100th Diamonds appearance in centre midfield. In a first half of few chances Nic Evangelinos came closest with a fierce effort just over the bar on 4 and Nabil Sharif saw a cross shot deflected just wide on 17. Rugby belied their lowly position with a positive approach and created two good chances for Chris Sterling the second just deflected over by Liam Dolman. Jack Ashton was forced off injured just before half-time and Liam Dolman early in the second half resulting in Tom Lorraine playing centre half alongside Brad Harris. Rugby took advantage of the disruption to take the lead on 57 as a low header from a dangerous cross looped up and over Ben Heath. It lasted just 6 minutes though before Nic Evangelinos smashed home from the edge of the box to give Diamonds the scent of victory. Despite goal mouth scrambles at both ends another late winner wasn’t to be as the points were deservedly shared.
Manager Andy Peaks was forced into more defensive changes in his Diamonds line-up as Brad Harris dropped into the back four alongside Kyal McNulty as full-backs alongside Jack Ashton and Liam Dolman. Sam Brown came back onto the bench with Rory Winters and Jason Lee unavailable. Tom Lorraine came into centre midfield alongside Richard Bunting who joined the Diamonds 100 club with his century appearance for the club on the night.
On a chilly night Diamonds looked to press the game early on against struggling opponents and earned two early corners that came to nothing before Nic Evangelinos ran at the Rugby defence and hit a stinging 25 yard effort just over the bar.
Rugby Town looking for a first home win were lively in possession and created a good chance from inside the box on 7 minutes as Chris Sterling fired over from 10 yards.
The game lacked the early excitement of the previous two Diamonds away games but it was mainly Diamonds pressing and on 17 they nearly forced an own goal as Nabil Shariff’s neat cross at the end of a sweeping move was deflected just wide.
Rugby were energetic and promising going forward and came so close on 25 as a break down the left saw a cut back into the area for Sterling again to fire in an effort that Liam Dolman managed to deflect over the bar.
Diamonds then suffered another defensive blow on 41 as Spalding hero Jack Ashton went down in his own area under challenge and struggled to overcome the blow. He was replaced on 42 by Ben Ford who slotted into left back with Brad Harris moving to centre back and Kyal McNulty swapping to right back.
The half ended at 0-0 with Diamonds coming to terms with the changes having to be made and Rugby buoyed by their ability to repel in form Diamonds and put pressure on the play-off chasing visitors.
Half-time: Rugby Town 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
Diamonds were clearly looking to up the tempo in the second half with Nabil Shariff getting clear on 46 but his cross was just cleared for a corner that came to nothing.
More defensive woes followed though with Liam Dolman picking up an injury that forced him off to be replaced by Lewis Leslie. With both centre halves now off injured Tom Lorraine dropped into centre half alongside Brad Harris in a pairing of the versatility men.
As Diamonds struggled to adapt to the changes Scott Hadland had a rasping effort for Rugby go just wide before they deservedly took the lead on 57. A good ball into the box saw Chris Sterling get ahead of his marker and send a looping header up over Ben Heath and into the far corner.
As Rugby sensed a fantastic result Diamonds upped the tempo again and got a vital early response on 63. The ball was played up to the edge of the box where Nic Evangelinos took control and struck firmly into the bottom corner to bring the away side level.
Diamonds pushed for another late winner but found it difficult to maintain momentum in their quest for a 5th straight away win. Nic Evangelinos and Lewis Leslie were prominent in creating space and danger for the away side but the killer chance wouldn’t come. Nabil Shariff and Jake Newman linked well and Taylor Orosz was a lively replacement for Lewis Wilson.
Rugby went close with a free-kick just glanced wide but were generally restricted to long range efforts as Diamonds pressed for that vital winning goal. Possession became erratic in the final stages though as both sides closed each other down to deny any final momentum.
Rugby forced a panic in the re-shaped back four on 86 as the ball pinged around the box not getting initially cleared and Diamonds had hearts in mouths as Taylor Orosz forced the ball clear off the line.
Diamonds created their own goalmouth panic on 90 as the ball again pinged around the Rugby box before being forced away and minutes later Evangelinos fed Shariff who just fired wide.
The final whistle came moments later to give Rugby a first home point of the season and extend Diamonds unbeaten run to 11.
Final Score: Rugby Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
This was a harder game than Diamonds might have felt it would be given Rugby’s home record but defensive re-shuffles before and during the game took their toll. Brad Harris started at full-back but finished at centre half alongside Tom Lorraine after Jack Ashton and Liam Dolman were forced off with injuries.
Chances were at a premium but after Rugby took a 57th minute lead Diamonds reacted well and after Nic Evangelinos netted an equaliser looked the side likely to grab a winner. It wasn’t to be and although on paper a disappointing result against a struggling Rugby Town this was a valuable point to add to the 6 gained at Spalding and Stockbridge in the last week.
Next up for Diamond is the visit of fellow Northern Premier League South opponents Lincoln United in the FA Trophy on Saturday.
Man of the Match: Nic Evangelinos as voted by Diamonds Members
Match report by: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Louis Connor
2. Emmitt Delfohnseo
3. Mason Rowley
4. Joe Halsall
5. Kyle Rowley
6. Elliott Palmer
7. Charlie Faulkner
8. Scott Hadland
9. Daniel Campbell
10. Chris Sterling
11. Adrian Boitos
12. Harry Holloway
14. Aiden Print
15. Blaize Punter
16. Anthony Charles
17. Eoji Mbunga
17. Ben Heath
2. Brad Harris
3. Kyal McNulty
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Richard Bunting
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Nic Evangelinos
9. Jake Newman
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Lewis Wilson
12. Taylor Orosz (for Wilson 68)
13. Matt Finlay
14. Sam Brown
15. Lewis Leslie (for Dolman 52)
16. Ben Ford (for Ashton 42)
Goals: Sterling (57)
Goals: Evangelinos (63)
Yellow Card: Faulkner, Hadland
Yellow Cards: Bunting, Harris, Shariff
Referee: S Garratt
Assistants: D Pattison, R Mcilraney
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
Click here for video highlights of this game and post-match interviews.