Diamonds started the new season with a point as they ground out a gutsy draw against Needham Market.
On a sunny day at Hayden Road, Rushden started brightly and almost led within ten minutes when Jenson Cooper hit the outside of the post. They should have forged ahead on the half-hour mark when a superb cross from Miguel Ngwa found Evangelos-Nikalaos Epochontsif only a few yards out, but his downward header skipped up and over the bar. The visitors came close themselves when full-back Kyle Hammond’s strike from distance flew narrowly wide, and Dean Snedker made a terrific double save to deny Ross Crane and Patrick Brothers.
Needham had the better of the second period as they regularly threatened with a series of driving runs and swift attacks. Hammond almost caught Snedker out from over 45 yards only for the Diamonds keeper to get back and tip over, before Jacob Lay embarked on a couple of penetrating sprints forward before firing just past the post on both occasions. Lay was also denied by a crucial Ryan Hughes clearance off the line, and another counter-attack saw the ball lobbed over Snedker but the eventual header somehow go wide. The Diamonds keeper then pawed away a late free-kick from underneath his own bar as the hosts held on for a clean-sheet and an opening day draw.
Manager Burgess decided on a 4-4-2 system for the opening match, with only six players who were in the squad for the final game of last season in the 16 for this encounter. There were league debuts for Courtney Lashley, Evangelos-Nikalaos Empochontsif, Miguel Ngwa, Jenson Cooper and Jack Connor, whilst Nathan Hicks took the captain’s armband on his second Diamonds spell.
The visitors had finished a respectable 12th in the league last season and had announced five new signings on Thursday, with four of them named in the starting line-up. They created the first action of note as, in the first minute, a short corner was taken quickly and led to a strike at goal that was blocked away. Play swung down the other end as neat link-up play between Connor Furlong and Paddy Casey released the latter down the right, and his cross towards the back post found Cooper. He chested it down and struck towards the near post, but it cannoned off the upright and behind for a goal-kick.
Both sides battled for possession and an early foothold in the match, with a number of midfield tussles and possession regularly being turned over. In the 24th minute another away set-piece caused danger as a corner was played to the edge of the box, and full-back Kyle Hammond lined up a low piledriver that flew past a crowd of bodies but just past the post. Shortly afterwards midfielder Evan Collard received the first yellow card as he hauled down Ngwa.
The new Diamonds signing, on loan from Northampton, threatened a few minutes later as he escaped down the right and whipped in a terrific delivery to the back post. Empochontsif was only a few yards out in front of goal, but his downward header bounced up and over the bar.
The away side, nicknamed the Marketmen, responded as a Daniel Morphew header from a left-wing corner was deflected behind. The following set-piece found Ross Crane whose close-range strike was instinctively parried clear by Dean Snedker, and then Patrick Brothers’ dipping half-volley from outside the box drew another good save from the Rushden keeper down to his right.
Moments before half-time, Crane was found in behind on the left only for Snedker to get down to turn his effort behind. The corner came to nothing, and the whistle was then blown to signal the end of an entertaining first half where both sides had come close to breaking the deadlock.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Needham Market
Diamonds won a corner only a minute after the restart following Furlong’s deflected cross, and Lashley’s back-post delivery almost found Empochontsif. The visitors would go on to have the better of the second half though as they regularly found space to run at the back-four and showed neat approach play. Crane had a low shot easily held, and then Hammond launched a speculative strike from range that forced Snedker to back-pedal and tip the ambitious attempt over the bar.
Burgess made his first change just before the hour mark as Luis Pinto-Leite replaced Cooper, but Diamonds struggled to stem the tide of Needham’s building pressure and dominance. Jacob Lay got the better of Casey on the left before springing forward and fizzing a strike that just passed the post, and a minute later he came even closer. The creative midfielder was played through on goal and he stayed on his feet, despite Empochontsif’s tug of his shirt, to dink it past Snedker. The keeper got a touch on it which slowed its approach towards the back of the net, and Ryan Hughes got back to clear it against his own crossbar and behind for a corner.
Both Casey and Ngwa entered the referee’s notebook for stopping potential counter-attacks, and Ngwa then seemed to be hauled down in midfield only for the official to allow play to continue. Needham almost capitalised as they sped forward and into the box, the ball was lobbed over Snedker for an incoming attacker but he somehow headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
One final chance was fashioned as substitute Tyrese Sutherland committed a foul on the left, and the subsequent strike forced Snedker into another reflex save to parry it away from danger.
Three minutes of additional time were signalled, but these passed with only Empochontsif being booked for an aerial challenge as Diamonds held on for a draw.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Needham Market
After conceding 25 goals in their nine pre-season games, Diamonds will have been happy to keep a clean-sheet and to claim a point after the raft of changes since the end of last season. They could and should have scored in the first half, and they then battled well after the break, though they were indebted to several superb Snedker saves to preserve the clean-sheet.
The point is a platform to build on, something which they will be aiming to do in their next match as they travel to one of the league’s newcomers, Basford United, on Saturday 13 August, 3:00 pm kick-off, for their away match of the new season.
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds host Needham Market on Saturday (6 August, 3:00 pm kick-off) for the opening day of the 2022/23 Pitching In Southern League Premier Central.
Admission prices are as follows:
Under 21s: £6
Under 16s: £2
Tickets can be purchased in advance here or you can pay on-the-gate.
They play at Bloomfields and finished 12th in the division last season. The Marketmen are managed by Kevin Horlock and played seven pre-season friendlies, winning three, drawing two and losing their remaining two.
To find out more about the club, visit their website here.
Diamonds played nine pre-season friendlies in all, winning two, drawing three and losing four.
An opening draw at Kempston (3-3) was followed by defeats to MK Dons (0-4), Stamford (5-3) and Loughborough Students (1-4). After that Rushden went unbeaten in progressing to the next round of the NFA Hillier Cup after defeating Cogenhoe on penalties following a 1-1 draw, another 1-1 draw was played out in a behind-closed-doors match against a Northampton Town XI before a 3-0 victory at Daventry and then a further 1-1 draw against National League North side Brackley Town. Pre-season was concluded with a 0-6 defeat at home to the Luton Town Development Squad.
The new signings so far have Matt Lars Fossen, Courtney Lashley, Evenagelos-Nikalaos Epochontsif, Nathan Hicks, Jenson Cooper and Tyrese Sutherland. Scholar Luis Pinto-Leite has also signed Southern League forms along with Ben Morley, Josh Going, Nigel Chikamba and Fraser Corden.
Meetings between the clubs
Diamonds and Needham Market have faced each other on six occasions, with Diamonds emerging victorious in three, Needham winning two and one draw.
The full list of results between the two sides is:
Needham Market 1-5 Diamonds (Diamond, Bowen, Rogers, Lorraine, Hopkins) – Southern League Premier Central, 6th October 2018
Diamonds 2-1 Needham Market (Rogers, Bowen) – Southern League Premier Central, 16th March 2019
Diamonds 1-2 Needham Market (Dove) – Southern League Challenge Cup Third Round, 3rd December 2019
Diamonds 1-2 Needham Market (Farrell pen) – Southern League Premier Central, 28th January 2020
Needham Market 2-2 Diamonds (Akubuine, Collard) – Southern League Premier Central, 14th September 2021
Diamonds 2-0 Needham Market (Collard, Deacon) – Southern League Premier Central, 18th January 2022
Opening day record
Since the formation of the phoenix club, Diamonds have won six, drawn two and lost two of their opening fixtures. Only one of the defeats has come at home – last season in a 0-2 reverse against eventual champions Banbury United.
Can’t make the game?
Our Radio Diamonds team will be providing live commentary as the action unfolds – tune in at mixlr.com/radiodiamondsafc. Listeners will be able to message with their comments and thoughts on 07394 309591.
Match preview: Ollie Mortimer
|Date||Time||League||Season||Match Day||Attendance||Man of the Match||Captain|
|Sat, 6th Aug, 2022||3:00 pm||Southern League Premier Division Central||2022/23||1||388||Dean Snedker||Nathan Hicks|
|Referee||Assistant Referee 1||Assistant Referee 2|
|Matthew Jackson||Gary Lord||Aidan Murphy|
|Hayden Road Sports Ground, Hayden Road, Rushden, Northamptonshire NN10 0HX|