Another stunning win in Spalding for Diamonds on Tuesday night as Richard Bunting and Jack Ashton scored late goals to see the 10 men come from behind to win 2-1.
Diamonds dominated much of the first half with a really positive front foot performance but trailed at half-time to a Nathan Whitehead header from a near post corner. Spalding looked to kill the game early in the second half but wayward finishing from Wells, Whightwick and Whitehead and some incredible saves from Diamonds debutant goalkeeper Ben Heath kept them at bay. Rory Winters was sent-off for harshly receiving a second yellow card on 74 and it seemed Diamonds chances were over.
But Ben Heath then made a stunning save before a brilliant late surge won Diamonds the game. First Richard Bunting smashed a 20 yard volley home on 74 to send the large away following into raptures, and then as the away fans roared them on Jack Ashton headed home Liam Dolman’s knock back to win the game for the away side. Ben Heath made another amazing point blank save to protect the hard won lead and the final whistle drew incredible scenes between players, management and fans on another magical night in Spalding.
For this vital potentially season defining clash Manager Andy Peaks was forced into giving a dramatic debut to new signing Ben Heath in goal following the finger injury sustained on Saturday by Matt Finlay. He also brought Rory Winters back into the side at right back to allow Kyal McNulty to play right side midfield in place of Taylor Orosz who dropped to the bench. In a further dramatic twist Sam Brown developed a foot injury in the warm-up and was forced to the bench with Jason Lee coming in to play left-back.
The late changes didn’t deter Diamonds who after a scary first few minutes played the game on the front foot playing with real purpose and seeing the majority of the first half played in the Spalding half.
Those opening moments saw Spalding danger men Jack Whightwick and Bradley Wells break clear in the Diamonds box with Jack Ashton putting in a vital tackle to deny Wells in just the first minute, and Whightwick drag his shot wide on 3 when well placed.
As Diamonds started to dominate the play Nic Evangelinos seized on a loose clearance of a promising Diamonds move on 5 mins to get free into the left side of the box lifting his effort cleverly over the advancing Spalding keeper Michael Duggan but also agonisingly over the bar.
As Diamonds were winning the midfield challenges Evangelinos again tormented the Spalding right-back working a position for a whipped in cross that just evaded McNulty on the far post on 12 mins.
Spalding responded with sporadic breaks with Whightwick particularly dangerous getting clear on 14 but firing high and wide. Cenk Acar then joined the action with a surging run down the left to win a corner which was cleared and then Whightwick pulled another effort left of debutant Heath who still hadn’t had a save to make in the first 20.
Diamonds were drawing some robust challenges from the home side trying to prevent some neat passing in midfield and earned a free-kick 25 yards out on 22 with Nathan Stanfield getting the game’s first yellow card. Liam Dolman took his time setting up the chance and struck a superb curling effort towards the right top corner only for Duggan to claw the ball away superbly.
Jack Ashton then came close with an energetic run onto an out swinging corner that he headed just wide from 15 yards.
Spalding had their own “Sam Brown” taking long throws from both sides to create the most danger for the home side in the final stages of the half but the Diamonds back four worked hard to keep them out. But after two such throws had been repelled Spalding won another corner on 42 that was swung into the near post for Nathan Whitehead to finally beat a Diamonds head to the ball to put the home side ahead.
Half-time: Spalding United 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
That reverse just on half-time was harsh on Diamonds who had played well in the first half, but it buoyed the home side into a dominating start to the second. After Liam Dolman had a half chance on 48 his header clutched from under the bar by Duggan, they pushed Diamonds back and created the chances that really should have won them the game.
A long throw on 50 dropped to Wells in the box who volleyed wildly over in what would be an unfortunate theme in the Spalding finishing throughout the match.
Diamonds were defending solidly but started picking up yellow cards in a frantic spell. First Kyal McNulty was penalised just outside the box for what the referee judged as repeated fouls. The free-kick fell invitingly for Wells around the penalty spot but he fired horribly wide. Richard Bunting picked up a yellow for his continued protests, and then Rory Winters harshly it seemed was punished for a challenge over by the touchline on 56 that would prove important later in the game.
The first attacking substitution from Manager Andy Peaks saw Lewis Wilson come on for Kyal Mcnulty and he immediately showed composure on the ball to link up midfield and attack. But Wells then had yet another nailed on chance as he surged into the box but he dragged his shot wide of the advancing Heath.
Diamonds then earned a free-kick midway in the Spalding half for the sort of challenge that had been drawing yellow cards but a talking to was deemed sufficient. The ball was played to the far post where Liam Dolman appeared to be pushed as he competed for the ball but again nothing given. He would get his revenge in the dramatic dying stages of the game.
As Diamonds looked to be relieving the Spalding pressure well the home side surged back on the attack with the impressive Whightwick seizing on a blocked cross attempt on 68 to hit a superb curling effort on the turn that Ben Heath could only watch clip the bar.
Jake Newman was then introduced by Andy Peaks for the hardworking Tom Lorraine and this would again prove vital in the dramatic conclusion of the game.
First we had another chance for Whightwick to clinch the game as he surged into the box only to see Ben Heath to spread himself well to punch the ball wide.
The potentially pivotal moment then came on 74 as Rory Winters was in receipt of a poor challenge over by the touchline and as observers were expecting punishment for the Spalding man it was Winters who received a second yellow card for his reaction and dismissal for the second time this season. Nabil Shariff also picked up yellow for his part in trying to protect his colleague.
As Winters left the field totally disconsolate for what it seemed to mean for his sides chances in the game the Diamonds heroes started to really do their stuff.
First Ben Heath made an absolutely stunning save as Whightwick again broke clear but the new Diamonds hero with amazing firm wrists batted the ball away from close range to gasps round the ground.
His team mates seized the moment and Jake Newman so lively since he had come on surged clear down the left and tricked his way into the box to fire a fierce effort that keeper Duggan batted clear. Spalding couldn’t clear it properly though and the ball fell almost in slow motion to the midfield hero and captain Richard Bunting 20 yards out who struck a superb volley first time across the keeper into the bottom corner to send the away fans into absolute rapture.
The celebrations were something to behold with Bunting no doubt reliving his game winning moment on the same ground 3 years ago and fans and players and management feeling vindicated by the skippers special moment.
The whole Diamonds family took an incredible lift from the turn of events and the 10 men pressed forward sensing there was more drama to come on an incredible night.
They were right!! First Nic Evangelinos had the ball in the net as he seized on loose ball in behind the Spalding defence to turn the ball home on 80 only to see the offside flag. And then that chance for Liam Dolman and Jack Ashton to cement their places along with Richard Bunting as Diamonds big match heroes.
A free kick was won out right 40 yards from goal and as the away fans roared him on Nic Evangelinos struck a superb deep free kick for Dolman to win at the far post and head back across the six yard line. And as every Diamonds fan leant forward in excited anticipation Jack Ashton surged onto the ball to power his header home. Queue amazing scenes including this reporter needing to be calmed down to be able to tell twitter followers the incredible news!!
Ashton picked up a yellow card for removing his shirt as he was engulfed by half of East Northamptonshire in celebrating the goal but there were still 10 minutes of play to see out and Spalding weren’t going to let a chance to go to the top of the table disappear lightly.
They threw the kitchen sink at 10 man Diamonds with the ball pinging around the box but they were repelled…just…at every turn. The most amazing saw Ben Heath cement his position as a new Diamonds hero with another stunning firm wristed save from point blank range. How he forced the ball wide we’ll never know, but it was fitting that he fell on the ball in the 95th minute to allow the referee to blow the final whistle on a breathless night.
Final Score: Spalding United 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Man of the Match: Jack Ashton
Match report by: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Michael Duggan
2. Jordan Lemon
3. Charlie Gatter
4. Paul Walker
5. Nathan Stainfiel
6. Mitchell Griffiths
7. Matt Varley
8. Bradley Wells
9. Jack Wightwick
10. Nathan Whitehead
11. Cenk Agar
12. Chris Hamilton
14. Andy Wright (for Wightwick 89)
15. Connor Higginson (for Griffiths 84)
16. Jason Field
17. Sam Downey
17. Ben Heath
2. Rory Winters
13. Jason Lee
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Brad Harris
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Richard Bunting
9. Kyal McNulty
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Nic Evangelinos
12. Lewis Wilson (for McNulty 60)
14. Jake Newman (for Lorraine 68)
15. Taylor Orosz
16. Ben Ford
Goals: Whitehead (42)
Goals: Bunting (78), Ashton (84)
Yellow Card: Stainfield, Whitehead, Varley
Yellow Cards: Winters (x2), McNulty, Bunting, Shariff, Ashton
Red Cards: Winters (2 yellow cards)
Referee: Mark Curwood
Match Gallery courtesy of Stephanie Webb Photography Copyright Stephanie Webb Photography ©2016