AFC Rushden & Diamonds extended their lead at the top of the UCL Premier League to 3 points with a hard fought 2-0 win against Sleaford Town in windy Lincolnshire on Saturday afternoon.
They weren’t at their best but had the bulk of possession and the better crafted attacking positions and chances against a resilient Sleaford Town and took an early lead which settled the side down. Richard Bunting rifled home from 20 yards on the volley from Russ Dunkley’s pass on 9 minutes. Sleaford had periods of working the Diamonds defence particularly early and late in the second half but rarely seriously troubled Matt Finlay in the Diamonds goal. The clinching second goal came on 71 minutes as Tom Lorraine stabbed home from close range after Sleaford failed to clear corner. The game had it’s feisty moments particularly late on as Sleaford felt they weren’t getting the run of referee’s decisions but Diamonds gave as good as they got and were strong in closing out the game.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the side which were unlucky to not beat Holbeach last week. With Aaron Parkinson out and Joel Gyasi not available, Sam Brown came into left back with Jack Ashton moving across to play alongside Liam Dolman at centre half, and Elliott Lamb-Johnson came in for what would be an eventful appearance on the right wing.
On a sunny Lincolnshire afternoon Diamonds started brightly with the strong wind at their backs. Elliott Lamb-Johnson was prominent down the right hand side and Russ Dunkley was holding the ball well and bringing his team mates into play. It was from just such a move that they took the lead in spectacular fashion on 9 minutes. The ball was played into Dunkley with his back to goal just outside the box, he fed it into the path of Richard Bunting who initially tried to sweep the ball out to Sam Brown but the ball was blocked back towards him and on the volley from just inside the D he fired the ball high past keeper McGann.
It was just the start Diamonds wanted as they sought to avoid the “after the big game” lull they have found in previous years. They looked composed in possession and moved the ball well at times gaining some dangerous attacking positions but didn’t create too many genuine chances against a hard-working Sleaford defence. Elliott Lamb-Johnson had the better of his full-back a number of times getting in behind and winning corners or feeding in crosses that were just cleared or not quite finding a diamonds shirt.
Sleaford had breaks of their own with Liam Tunstall dangerous up against Brad Harris. On 16 minutes he ran onto an excellent through ball ran at Harris, cut inside and shot firmly from 25 yards just wide.
Sleaford started to feel the referees decisions were going against them too often and this became a growing feature of the game. It was Diamonds doing the bulk of attacking though and although they won a number of free-kicks much to Sleaford’s growing frustration they weren’t able to trouble McGann in the middle period of the half.
Diamonds best chance to add to their lead came on 31 minutes. Fazel Koriya jinking past defenders down the left hand side and hitting a superb cross which Tom Lorraine rose to meet but could only direct his header onto the bar. Just two minutes later Richard Bunting had a chance to add to his earlier goal with another volley from the edge of the box which he hit firmly but into the ground first allowing McGann to make the save.
Full-back David Hone picked-up his 6th booking of the season for dissent on 34 minutes as his teams frustration with the referee started to boil over after a possibly high challenge by Elliott Lamb-Johnson went unpunished. And it was Elliott Lamb-Johnson who got into space down the right again cutting inside Luke Hollingworth with ease and hit a lofted cross which saw Tom Lorraine collide with keeper McGann who got up quickly to block Confue’s follow-up effort but injured himself in the process needing requiring lengthy treatment.
In a busy last few minutes of the half Matt Finlay in the Diamonds goal had time to make his first meaningful action diving to push Coupland’s shot wide on 43 although a free-kick had already been awarded which Hone curled over from 25 yards. Jack Ashton then came close to converting a free-kick pushing the ball off the near post from an acute angle, and then came Sleaford’s best chance a powerful header by Euan Clarke from a corner which Liam Dolman cleared off the line with an equally powerful clearing header.
Half-time: Sleaford Town 0 – AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
Sleaford started the second half brightly and pushed Diamonds back in the early stages probing around the edge of the area and getting a number of crosses into the box, but the Diamonds defence were aggressive as ever in their defending and generally kept Sleaford to long range shots.
A Diamonds highlight in this period came from Adam Confue breaking up a dangerous attack on the edge of the area and setting-off on a mazy powerful run reminding the Radio Diamonds team of Yaya Toure, surging all the way into the Sleaford half before spraying the ball out to Elliott Lamb-Johnson.
It was Confue himself who really should have added to Diamonds lead as he powered onto a 62nd minute corner and headed over from just 6 yards.
Sleaford picked up a second booking on 65 when Seb Firman pulled back Tom Lorraine and might have conceded a penalty on 70 as a deep Fazel Koriya cross found Russ Dunkley whose header was bundled wide with Diamonds fans behind the goal claiming a hand was used.
Those fans were really roaring the team on in this period and were rewarded by the important second goal on 71. A corner was whipped in, only partially cleared and Tom Lorraine was on hand to stab home from 5 yards.
Sleaford pushed hard in the final stages as they had at the start of the half but again had little impact on an impressive Diamonds defence. Fleming was a thorn in Diamonds side all afternoon and came close on 83 when collecting the ball 25 yards out and firing just wide with Matt Finlay scrabbling across his goal. But Fleming dived into yet another challenge just a few seconds later and picked up a 3rdd Sleaford yellow card.
Elliott Lamb-Johnson had time for a trick which wound-up the hapless Luke Hollingworth, teasing him with the ball, then executing a perfect nutmeg much to the delight of the Diamonds faithful. Sam Brown was back to his best and nearly got that elusive 3rd Diamonds goal as he flicked the ball past Sleaford defenders twice only to have his shot smothered by hardworking McGann in the Sleaford goal.
The final stages revolved around Elliott Lamb-Johnson who was first booked on 89 minutes by referee Wayne Bright for what seemed to be a mixture of a pull back on a Sleaford player, the infamous totting up process and the continual appeals from Sleaford players for punishment. There seemed to be a concerted effort to wind-up the sometimes volatile winger and it nearly got him a second yellow card in the final minute. An innocuous but poorly timed challenge produced a free-kick but under pressure referee Bright gave Lamb-Johnson a long lecture but didn’t produce the expected red card. Manager Andy Peaks sensibly made an immediate substitution, but as Lamb-Johnson was leaving the field he was taunted by Hollingworth and an ugly confrontation was prevented by his Diamonds colleagues pulling him away.
The game finished at well beyond 90 minutes thanks to the substitutions and multiple stoppages but Diamonds were always comfortable with the defence impressive right to then end.
Final Score: Sleaford Town 0 – AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Diamonds unbeaten run goes on after a hard fought but ultimately comfortable win against a determined Sleaford side who had been the only team to take points off Huntingdon so far this season. The early goal was vital, and manager Andy Peaks will have been pleased with strong defensive performance from arguably his first choice back four, and the input from Elliott Lamb-Johnson and Adam Confue in particular going forward.
Diamonds now lead the UCL Prem by 3 points and turn to Hiller Cup action on Tuesday with the mouth-watering visit of Jon Brady’s Conference North Brackley Town team.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Richard Bunting
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Phil McGann
2. David Hone
3. Luke Hollingworth
4. Seb Firman
5. Adam Weston
6. Terry Fleming
7. Ryan Parcell
8. Brad Hockin
9. Euan Clarke
10. Scott Coupland
11. Liam Tunstall
12. Tom Siddons
13. Sam Greenwood
14. Adam Underwood-Harvey
16. Reece Skinner (for Hockin 78)
19. Jamie Rose (for Coupland 45)
17. Matt Finlay
2. Brad Harris
3. Sam Brown
4. Adam Confue
5. Liam Dolman
6. Jack Ashton
7. Elliott Lamb-Johnson
8. Richard Bunting
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Russ Dunkley
11. Fazel Koriya
12. Jamal Clarke (for Lamb-Johnson 90)/p>
13. Josh Thomson
14. Jason Turner (for Dunkley 76)
15. Charlie Butt
16. Scott Joseph (for Koriya 85)
Goals: Bunting (9), Lorraine (71)
Yellow Cards: Hone (34), Firman (65), Fleming (83)
Yellow Cards: Lamb-Johnson (89)
Referee: Wayne Bright
Assistants: Mark Bruntlett, Chris Sheppard