Diamonds were held to their third straight goalless draw as they battled to a stalemate with St Ives on Saturday afternoon.
The first half was a largely low-key affair, with plenty of enterprise and graft from both sides but not much in the way of goalmouth action. Diamonds won a series of long-throw opportunities in the early exchanges but, apart from a couple that were flicked on and caused danger, these were well defended by the hosts. Tom Lorraine had a chance after reaching a Declan Rogers corner, but his sidefooted effort went over the bar. Rushden had more of the possession and the territory, but it was ultimately Ives who had the better opportunities. Striker Morgan Penfold got in behind in the 14th minute, but his left-footed shot went all the way across goal. Moments later he had an even better opportunity when a cutback from the left found him at close-range, and his mishit shot was hacked off the line. Ex-Diamonds man Ty Ward had a good opening later in the half when excellent work down the left by Penfold saw him pull a pass back, and Ward stabbed an effort goalwards only for it go wide of the far post. However, the half-time score of 0-0 reflected the closeness of the game and the lack of chances.
The second half began quickly, and both sides came close to breaking the deadlock. Firstly Andrew Osei-Bonsu cut inside from the right for the hosts and saw a shot go just over the bar onto the roof of the net, and then Diamonds came within inches of going ahead. A corner from the left found the towering leap of Lorraine, and his header was parried. It dropped right on the line, and it looked for all the world that Jack Bowen would force the rebound home only for it somehow to be hacked away. Heath was then forced into an excellent save when Ives full-back Taona Sundire cut inside before seeing a low bobbling effort turned behind. Ben Acquaye, John Dean and Sam Johnson were all introduced from the bench in the hope of finding an all-important goal, but a number of crosses and long-throws into the box were dealt with by the strong home defence. In fact it was the home side who came closest to winning as the game became more stretched and as Rushden began to commit more men forward. Substitute Ben Seymour-Shove was twice found in very promising positions, only for his first effort to go into the side-netting and then an attempted cutback be cleared away. In the end neither side were able to find a winning goal, and Diamonds were forced to settle for their fourth consecutive draw that leaves them six points off the play-off places.
Manager Peaks made just the solitary change to the starting XI that had been defeated on penalties in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup final on Tuesday evening at Sixfields. Declan Rogers came into the side to replace the injured Ben Diamond, and so it meant that Diamonds continued with the 3-5-2 system that they had used in that last match and for the majority of the previous season. A strong-looking substitutes bench was made up of Jack Westbrook, Joe Curtis, Ben Acquaye, Sam Johnson and John Dean.
The two sides entered onto the Westwood Road pitch, with memories of the infamous 2016 Southern League Division One Central play-off final between the two at the same ground still in many people’s minds. Diamonds entered the clash having not won any of their last three away league matches, and they had only won one of their last seven games as they lie six points behind the play-off places. However, they had defeated their opponents in the FA Trophy First Qualifying Round earlier this campaign as they emerged 2-1 victors at Hayden Road. Ives, nicknamed The Saints, came into the game 13th in the table and they had lost their last four consecutive home league games. They had only scored 13 league goals in their 18 home league matches so far this season, and they had not won at home since January 12th. After the pre-match formalities were completed, referee George Byrne signalled to start the contest.
It was a fairly quiet start, with both teams feeling their way into the match and looking to settle into a consistent rhythm. The opening chance came in the third minute when Rushden won a corner, and Rogers trotted across to whip in a dangerous delivery that found Tom Lorraine. The striker, who had not scored since the beginning of February, sidefooted an effort towards goal, but it flew over the crossbar. The hosts responded moments later with striker Morgan Penfold getting in behind the away defence following a long ball forward, and he ran into the left side of the area before hitting a shot right across the face of goal and away from danger.
The play was bitty and saw little goalmouth action as both defences were on top in nullifying the opposing attack. Diamonds were looking threatening from set-pieces as they won a number of long-throw opportunities and corner kicks, and one of the latter found Jack Ashton to head back into the area. It could have dropped anywhere, but it ultimately felt for a home man to clear away.
The Saints then created the best opening of the half, and it was the dangerous Penfold who was at the centre of it again. A neat and tidy move down the left saw the ball moved into the area and a cutback looking for the lone front-man. It reached Penfold just over six yards out and, though he mishit his shot under closing pressure from nearby defenders, it still squirmed past Ben Heath only for it to be crucially hacked away from close to the line.
The visitors were having the better of possession and territory, but they were struggling to make inroads into a home defence that had kept five home league clean sheets in the campaign. It was the hosts who were fashioning the best clearest openings and, in the 39th minute, they came close again. Excellent work by Penfold down the left wing saw him step aside a couple of challenges and move into the box, and he cleverly pulled it back to ex-Diamonds man Ty Ward. He had a real sight of goal, but thankfully for Rushden he rushed his shot and the stabbed attempt went harmlessly wide of the far post.
Neither keeper had a real save of note to make in the half, and soon the referee called time on an opening period that had been incredibly tight and short of action.
Half Time: St Ives Town 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The previous league fixture between the two in September 2018 had been a close, even goalless draw, and so many thoughts over the half-time break focused on if the same would be the result of this clash. The hosts were in no danger of being dragged into a relegation battle or launching a play-off push, but Diamonds knew they could really do with a victory to make up some ground on the top five. The two teams returned to the field of play and, after a swift count of all 22 players, the referee blew to get the match back underway.
The half began a lot quicker than the previous one, and with chances for either side. Firstly winger Andrew Osei-Bonsu cut inside neatly from the right for the hosts, and he hit a curling shot towards goal that went just over the bar and onto the roof of the net. Then, in the 53rd minute, Diamonds won a corner on the left down the other end. The subsequent delivery was drilled into the heart of the area, and Lorraine leapt highest to power a header towards goal. Keeper Martin Conway parried the effort, but the loose ball dropped millimetres short of the goal-line where Jack Bowen was waiting. The striker looked an absolute certainty to turn the rebound home and to put the visitors ahead, but a combination of the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg and a desperate covering challenge of a nearby defender somehow scrambled the ball away to safety.
That had been the best chance of the game, and it helped to set the tone for a more enterprising and entertaining half of football. Heath was forced into his serious action of the contest when full-back Taona Sundire was found in space following a short corner, and he cut inside from the right past a challenge before firing a low left-footed towards the bottom right corner of the net. The ball bobbled up in front of the Rushden keeper, and so he did well to turn it behind for a corner. The following set-piece came in, but it was well defended and cleared away.
The time ticked into the final twenty minutes, and still the contest was deadlocked with not much to choose between the sides. In an attempt to unlock the home defence, Peaks made a double change in introducing Ben Acquaye and John Dean for Ashton and Bowen. The idea was to give the side some more pace and direct running at the St Ives back four, but both didn’t see much of the ball. Sam Johnson was then brought on for the industrious Ben Farrell but, despite a number of long-throws and set-pieces, they couldn’t find a way through.
Instead, it was the hosts who began to look the more likely to score as the game become more stretched and as Diamonds pushed more men forward in search of a winner. Substitute Ben Seymour-Shove, who scored the winner in the play-off final between the sides three years ago, had been summoned to replace Ward, and he had three good chances to score. Firstly, he was found in oceans of space on the left following a sweeping diagonal pass from Osei-Bonsu, but the winger’s first touch was lacking and his eventual effort was blocked away by Liam Dolman. Then, defender Mark Coulson found the substitute on the left corner of the box, and he hit a stinging strike that flashed into the side-netting. Finally, with Dolman now sent up front for the Diamonds, Seymour-Shove was found in acres of space on the counter-attack, and he sped down the right into the area before seeing his cutback to a couple of supporting men intercepted and hacked away.
Stoppage-time was signalled, but this passed without any action of note as the referee blew to call time on the match.
Full Time: St Ives Town 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This was a fair result, with both sides having some chances but neither doing quite enough to break down their opponents’ strong and stoic defence. The effort and application certainly was not lacking, but sometimes the final ball and extra bit of quality was in short supply in a closely-fought encounter. Diamonds have now not won any of their last four away matches and have now drawn three straight games 0-0, but they remain in the hunt for the play-offs as they still sit six points off fifth-place. Their next match sees them return to Hayden Road to take on second-placed Stourbridge next Saturday 13th April, 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
St Ives Town
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Martin Conway
2. Taona Sundire
3. Mark Coulson
4. Tom Wood
5. Owen Wallis
6. Jarvis Wilson
7. Oliver Snaith
8. Robert Parker (C)
9. Morgan Penfold
10. Andrew Osei-Bonsu
11. Ty Ward
12. George Bailey
14. Ben Seymour-Shove (for Ward 77)
15. Ben Baker
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Alex Collard
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jack Ashton
7. Jack Bowen
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Declan Rogers
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Joe Curtis
14. Ben Acquaye (for Bowen 74)
15. John Dean (for Ashton 74)
16. Sam Johnson (for Farrell 82)
18. Jack Westbrook
Yellow cards: Wood (79)
Yellow cards: Brown (77)
Referee: George Byrne
Assistants: Shaun Gregory, Ryan Allison
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
Match Gallery courtesy of Matt Hawkins. Copyright HawkinsImages ©2019