St Neots Town XI 4-2 Mark Starmer’s Ex-Diamonds XI
The Diamonds’ weekend of football at St Neots Town’s Hunts Post Community Stadium ended in disappointment, as Mark Starmer’s Ex-Diamonds XI were defeated by a young St Neots side.
A spate of injuries incurred during Saturday’s matches decimated the proposed squad, with only six former R&D youth players able to make the game. Some of the current AFC squad made up the rest of the team.
Mark Starmer was joined on the bench by several other ex-Diamonds, with Paul Driver, Kevin Shoemake and Andy Peaks all in attendance.
The opening stages of the game were quite even, and were played at a good tempo making for an entertaining match from the off. The first chance of the game fell on 6 minutes when former Rushden ‘keeper Michael Emery (now at Gainsborough Trinity) slipped as he cleared the ball, allowing Aaron Greene a shooting chance from 25 yards, but the St Neots front man fired just wide of the post.
A minute later Chai Simons cut in from the left flank and teed up Kaine Felix, but he too fired narrowly wide of goal.
It was the Diamonds who opened the scoring though with 10 minutes gone, and it was a goal that would have graced any game. Zaak Moon exchanged passes with Fred Devereaux before playing an exquisite ball through to Jordan Pendered (now at Luton Town, on loan to Thrapston Town). Pendered brought the ball under control before firing home an excellent strike from the right hand side of the penalty area, that went in off the far post.
Within two minutes however, the hosts had equalised. A ball down the left wing allowed Greene to get in behind the Rushden defence, and he cut inside before firing an unstoppable 15 yard shot past Emery and into the top corner. Emery then had to be alert to prevent a Saints second, getting down sharply to hold onto a dangerous cross/shot from Felix.
The Diamonds were back in front just a few minutes later thanks to another stunning goal. Zach Farden was tripped 20 yards from goal following a good forward run from left back. Lewis Hallford (now with Aylesbury United) stepped up to take the resulting free kick, and despatched a superb effort into the top corner of the net giving the St Neots ‘keeper no chance.
The hosts pressed for an equaliser but found the Rushden defence difficult to break down, with Connor Hayes (now at Thame United) doing a great job of marshalling the inexperienced Rust, Ellmer and Farden alongside him. The Saints tried a number of long range efforts but failed to trouble Emery, with the closest being a 20 yard effort from Richard Kay, but good pressure from Ryan Ellmer prevented him from getting in a clean strike.
As the half wore on the Saints began to find the occasional gap in the Rushden defence, particularly through the pace of Bryn Williams. On two occasions he managed to burst into the area, but was pushed wide both times and could only fire straight at Emery from a narrow angle. Their best chance of an equaliser came from Simons on 41 minutes, as he cut inside from the left flank before firing just over the bar from a tight angle.
Just as it looked as though the Diamonds would hold onto their lead until half time, the Saints replied with a goal completely out of the blue. Kay picked up the ball in the middle of the park before firing in a blistering 25 yard strike that flew into the top corner of Emery’s goal.
HT: St Neots Town XI 2-2 Mark Starmer’s Ex-Diamonds XI
Having conceded just before the interval the Diamonds would have been keen to restore their lead at the start of the second half. But within one minute of the restart they had fallen a goal behind, as Simons burst forward and fired home with another terrific 25 yard strike.
On 52 minutes Ryan Sharman tried to replicate Hallford’s stunning first half free kick, but he was denied by a fantastic save from Emery who somehow managed to hold onto the ball. Two minutes later Simons raced onto a ball over the top of the Rushden defence and looked certain to net the Saints’ fourth goal, but dragged his shot wide of the post.
It wasn’t all one way traffic at the start of the second half however, with Hallford and Pendered both causing problems down the flanks, but the St Neots defence dealt well with any balls into the box. Pendered went close to his second goal of the game after cutting inside and firing in a shot from 25 yards, but his effort sailed just wide of the post.
On 65 minutes the hosts had another great chance to extend their lead as Felix robbed Pendered on the half way line before rounding Ellmer to go through one-on-one with Emery, but he curled his shot just wide of the post.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes it was the Diamonds who looked the more threatening side. Hallford’s skill and trickery was tormenting the Saints’ defence, with the ball at times appearing to be affixed to his feet with some invisible viscid substance. From one such run he was tripped near the corner flag, and whipped in a dangerous free kick which Pendered headed wide of goal.
St Neots managed to weather the storm however, and as the Diamonds tired in the final minutes they took advantage and looked to kill off the game. Greene was first to try his luck but fired over the bar after cutting in from the left flank, before Sharman ran onto a long ball but could only fire tamely at Emery under pressure from Ellmer. Greene then raced onto another ball over the top but his cheeky attempted chip over Emery was well saved.
As the game drew to a close the Saints finally managed to net their fourth goal and kill off any hope of a Rushden equaliser, and in keeping with the previous five goals it was another one right out of the top drawer. Williams cut inside from the right flank before unleashing an unstoppable 25 yard strike which flew into Emery’s top right corner.
FT: St Neots Town XI 4-2 Mark Starmer’s Ex-Diamonds XI
The weekend of football at St Neots Town ended with defeats in both games, but there were plenty of positives to take from each. With a total of ten goals from the two games there was certainly plenty of entertainment for the supporters who made the journey over to the Hunts Post Community Stadium.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds are back in competitive action on Thursday 26th January, for the NSYL Knock Out Cup Quarter Final tie against ON Chenecks, which has been switched to Kiln Park. Click HERE for the match preview.
Man of the Match: Zaak Moon
St Neots Town XI
Mark Starmer’s Ex-Diamonds XI
2. Jamie Massey
4. Richard Kay
5. Sam Spencer
6. Nick Henerby (c)
8. Ryan Sharman
9. Kaine Felix
10. Chai Simons
11. Bryn Williams
17. Aaron Greene
|86. Michael Emery
15. Mark Rust
11. Connor Hayes
14. Ryan Ellmer
3. Zach Farden
7. Jordan Pendered
4. Zaak Moon
8. Elliot Dent (c)
6. Lewis Hallford
9. Fred Devereaux
10. Kyle Swailes
7. Connor Belgrove (for Felix, 68 mins)
Greene (12 mins)
Kay (45 mins)
Simons (46 mins)
Williams (89 mins)
Pendered (10 mins)
Hallford (19 mins)
All images courtesy of Mal Swinden