A hat-trick from new striker Chris Dillon and goals apiece from winger Luke Fairlamb and midfielder Ben Farrell sealed a second pre-season trophy for AFC Rushden & Diamonds, as they beat Rushden & Higham United 5-1 at Hayden Road to lift the Chris Ruff Memorial Cup.
Manager Andy Peaks continued his pre-season experimentation with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Adam Pryke and Sam Brown deputised at the back, with Callum Westwood and Ben Ford as full backs. Lewis Leslie and Joe Curtis held the centre of midfield. Joel Gyasi started on the right wing with Luke Fairlamb on the left – both swapping wings occasionally. Darryl Smith started in the number 10 role just behind Chris Dillon.
An early free kick from Fairlamb from the left was cleared as far as Curtis on the edge of the area, but his shot sailed over the crossbar on two minutes. Another free kick on eight minutes was lofted into the area by Leslie, and after the goalkeeper fumbled his catch, it looked like Curtis was going to turn the ball in but the defence managed to clear over their own crossbar.
The first real goal scoring opportunity came on 11 minutes. Impressive midfielder Gyasi sent Fairlamb through on goal, but with only the keeper to beat, he could only flash his effort wide. The hosts had their effort when the left winger cut into the box past Westwood before placing a curled shot past the far post on 19 minutes.
After over ten minutes without any decisive play, it was on 32 minutes when Diamonds almost took the lead once again. Ford’s cross into the area was missed by the Rushden & Higham defence. Fairlamb controlled the ball before taking it past his man and firing inches past the near post.
Three minutes later, Diamonds took the lead. It was Fairlamb again cutting in from the right wing before crossing low for Curtis. However, he swung and missed the ball so instead it fell for Dillon who just managed to scramble the ball over the line despite the efforts of the home goalkeeper.
On 40 minutes, Gyasi used one of his trademark runs through multiple players towards the edge of the area before shooting over. A penalty appeal was waved away two minutes later as Dillon went down in the box after a Fairlamb cross, but it was a perfectly timed tackle from the defender to clear the danger.
Moments before half time, Fairlamb should have doubled the Diamonds’ lead when he had a clear opportunity from 12 yards but he could only fire wide.
Half time: Rushden & Higham United 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Andy Peaks made two changes at half time. Ben Heath replaced Finlay in goal, while centre back Blaze Punter came on for Ford, meaning Brown shifted out to left back.
The first clear cut opportunity of the second half came seconds after the restart. Gyasi’s cross was missed by the defence before a surprised Smith poked at the ball which flew over the bar. Five minutes later, Gyasi was causing mayhem again, this time shooting right in front of goal after the ball was fumbling around the area, but his shot was well saved by the goalkeeper.
Again, Diamonds should have doubled their lead on 54 minutes. The ever impressive Fairlamb found Dillon in space in the area but his effort clipped the post. But it was a minute later when the lead was extended. Gyasi worked his way into the area before being tackled by the defence, and the ball fell kindly for Fairlamb who placed his shot into the bottom left corner.
Farrell came on for Curtis in the aftermath of that goal. The Diamonds had a swagger about them with a 2-0 lead, and some marvellous interplay between Fairlamb, Gyasi and Dillon on the right set up a chance for Leslie from 20 yards who fired just wide.
Diamonds struck their third of the game on the hour after the home defence sloppily gave the ball to Fairlamb who teed up Smith for an effort which was well saved, and it was Dillon who followed up with the rebound. Young Harry Henbury replaced the brilliant Gyasi on 64 minutes.
And then with 20 minutes remaining, Dillon bagged his hat trick. It was more sloppy play from the defence as they were caught in possession by Fairlamb who was through on goal before unselfishly laying off for Dillon to claim the match ball. Striker Nabil Shariff came on for Smith two minutes later.
The hosts then grabbed a goal back with seven minutes remaining. Heath pulled off a good save from an effort in the area. The resulting corner was headed in off the crossbar by a Rushden & Higham centre half.
However, the big comeback wasn’t on as Diamonds extended their lead further two minutes later. Fairlamb once again worked his way into the area from the left before finding Shariff. However, the striker was dispossessed to Farrell on the edge of the area, who took a touch to open some space before firing in.
Diamonds made their final change of the day with Ford coming back on to replace Brown at left back.
The last minute of the game saw good chances for both sides. First, it was good work from the Rushden & Higham forward cutting inside before hitting his effort wide from 20 yards. Immediately after, Fairlamb dribbled into the area from the left before shooting into the side netting.
Full time: Rushden & Higham United 1-5 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Impressive wide displays from Fairlamb and Gyasi ensured that the Diamonds were a constant threat going forward. It’s encouraging – going into the new season – that Andy Peaks’ side are managing to create so many opportunities, while also being tight at the back.
AFC Rushden’s next fixture is on Wednesday against Winslow United. It is a home fixture and is the first time the Diamonds will be hosting at Hillgrounds in Kempston ahead of the new season.
Match Report by Adam Benney
Rushden & Higham United
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford (on for Brown, 87)
4. Sam Brown
5. Adam Pryke
6. Lewis Leslie
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Chris Dillon
10. Darryl Smith
11. Luke Fairlamb
13. Ben Heath (on for Finlay, 45)
14. Ben Farrell (on for Curtis, 55)
15. Harry Henbury (on for Gyasi, 64)
16. Nabil Shariff (on for Smith, 72)
18. Blaze Punter (on for Ford, 45)
Goals: Number 5 (83)
Goals: Dillon (35, 60, 70), Fairlamb (55), Farrell (85)
Match Gallery below courtesy Martyn Haworth