Diamonds were beaten by the league’s most in-form side on Saturday afternoon.
In blustery conditions that had an evident impact on proceedings, the hosts had more of the ball and looked threatening throughout. Dean Snedker made a good save from Ben Usher-Shipway’s cross-shot before making another stop following a corner. In response Ty Deacon twice fired off-target, just missed a Connor Furlong cross and AJ George had an effort blocked. Just before half-time Snedker terrifically denied Alex Moore from range and then saved from Tyler Lyttle after he had been released on goal.
Rushall took the lead five minutes into the second half when Paddy Casey unfortunately headed into his own net after Snedker had made an incredible point-blank save. Rushden’s best chance to get back into the match saw Furlong denied from a tight angle before Liam Dolman’s header from the resulting corner was smuggled behind. The home side doubled their advantage when a loose ball ran to substitute Danny Glover who instinctively curled a strike up and over Snedker into the far corner. They could have added more when Kristian Green fired wide and Glover had an effort cleared off the line, but two goals were enough in the end.
Manager Peaks kept the same 16-man squad that had lined up in the 2-0 victory over improving Stourbridge the week previously. The night before this game, news had broken that talisman Ravi Shamsi had been ruled out injured for the rest of the season.
Diamonds entered this contest sixth in the table having won six of their last seven Southern League fixtures and four of their last five away from Hayden Road. They were also second in the form table for the last five (W4 L1), ten (W8 L2) and 15 (W11 D1 L3) games, with the only side above them being Rushall. The Pics were unbeaten in their last 12 (W7 D5), undefeated in their last seven at Dales Lane and had scored four goals in each of their last three games.
The visitors initially started brightly as Connor Furlong had a free-kick after Ty Deacon was shoved over, but the subsequent delivery was caught by the keeper. Rushall then began to have more of the ball and looked threatening especially down the right wing, with one such moment leading to their first chance. A low cross saw Sam Warburton divert the ball away but only as far as Jourdain Masidi, though his volley flew wide of the post.
Moments later Ben Usher-Shipway, who proved dangerous with a number of long-throws, hit an effort across goal that forced Dean Snedker into a low diving save. Demetri Brown was then played in on goal, but he lashed at the strike and so blazed it wildly off-target.
Rushden responded in what was an eventful beginning to the important clash. Firstly Paddy Casey got down the right before his cross almost found the rising Deacon, but home stopper Thomas Palmer punched it away. A long ball by Snedker then dropped favourably for Deacon who hit it an ultimately skewed half-volley that sailed wide.
The best chance of the match so far arrived in the 20th minute, and it fell for the hosts. A corner from the right dropped for a home attacker after Nathan Tshikuna was unable to clear, and the resulting low effort was well kicked away by Snedker. Play soon swung down the other end as Diamonds won the ball high up which led to Furlong feeding Tshikuna who in turn played it to AJ George. He ran into the area before attempting a low effort, but it was blocked away. Furlong then got down the right before his cross was flicked narrowly wide by the stretching Deacon.
Snedker made two further excellent saves before the end of the half. Midfielder Alex Moore stepped forward and launched a 30-yard strike that soared towards the top corner, but the Rushden man leapt to parry the ball away. Then, after Deacon hooked an effort over following a jinking run from George, the dangerous Tyler Lyttle was found by a clever through ball. His low strike was vitally blocked by Snedker though, a stop that ensured the scoreline remained all square at the interval.
Half time: Rushall Olympic FC 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The Pics began the half on the front foot as, after only a couple of minutes, Moore hit a shot from the edge of the box that was straight at Snedker. However, moments later, they did score the all-important first goal. A corner from the left led to a towering header at the back post from point-blank range that the Diamonds keeper somehow tipped onto the bar, and Paddy Casey could only instinctively flick the loose ball into the back of his own net.
Diamonds refused to let their heads drop and, just prior to the hour mark, they came close to equalising. A pinpoint pass from Deacon found the galloping Furlong down the right, and he ran into the area to face Palmer only to be denied from a tight angle. The resultant corner found Liam Dolman at the back post on his own, but the defender’s downward header was somehow deflected wide.
Rushall were defending strongly as a couple of Tshikuna deliveries, along with a few Warburton long-throws, were repelled. They also continued to create opportunities as midfielder Richard Batchelor steered a corner wide before Brown hit a bobbling effort off-target after a long-throw from the left.
The hosts effectively sealed the contest in the 73rd minute as Rushden lost the ball and it ran for substitute Danny Glover. He cleverly hit a first-time curling strike that sailed over Snedker and hit the inside of the post before dropping into the back of the net. They almost made it three only moments later only for Kristian Green to fire narrowly wide of the far post.
Peaks made a double change as Will Jones and Matt Slinn were introduced for George and Fernando Bell-Toxtle, though the closest they came to getting a goal back was when Furlong looped a strike over and Jones was crowded out following a powerful run down the right.
The Pics could have extended their advantage when Glover’s close-range effort was adjudged to not have crossed the line, despite strong appeals, and the substitute also fired over in two minutes of stoppage time, but Diamonds were nevertheless consigned to defeat.
Full time: Rushall Olympic FC 2-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Though they didn’t play badly, Diamonds were downed by a well-organised and dangerous home side who demonstrated why they were in such terrific form. The visitors created some opportunities, but they were restricted in possession and in terms of how much territory they could build. Snedker impressed again with an array of crucial saves and, with most teams around them also dropping points, Rushden didn’t lose much ground in the race for the play-offs.
They are soon back in action on Tuesday night (8 February, 7.45pm kick-off) as they entertain Bugbrooke St. Michaels in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final, with a place in the final to be played at Sixfields up for grabs.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Dean Snedker
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Rushall: Thomas Palmer, Kristian Green, Reece Mitchell, Thomas Thorley, Mitchell Clarke, Ben Usher-Shipway, Alex Moore, Jourdain Masidi (Owen Parry 73) (Jay Clement 88), Richard Batchelor (C), Tyler Little, Demetri Brown (Danny Glover 66) (subs not used: Jonathan Flatt, Lucas Tibbs)
Rushall goals: Casey (OG 50), Glover (73)
Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle (Slinn 80), Dolman, Collard (C), Tshikuna, Diamond, Deacon, George (Jones 80), Furlong (subs not used: Hughes, Snelus, Nixon)