St Neots Town XI 5-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds XI
An AFC Rushden & Diamonds XI gave a good account of themselves against a St Neots Town XI side consisting of almost their entire first team squad. Whilst the scoreline may not have been flattering, the Diamonds side deserve great credit for their performance against a men’s side currently sitting joint top of the Southern League Central Division One table.
Rushden started the game with only two players in the side who had appeared against Kempston Rovers on Thursday. In an attempt to even the sides out, St Neots had agreed to allow former R&D players Chris Hope and Lewis Hilliard, both now plying their trade for the Saints, to appear for AFC R&D. Trialist Josh Poulson appeared in a Rushden squad for the first time, taking up a place amongst the substitutes.
Despite the quality and experience of their opponents, it was the young Diamonds who actually created the first chance of the game. Zach Farden, standing in as captain for the unavailable Danny Bird, cut in from the left wing and got in a shot on his weaker right foot, which deflected off a Saints defender and looked to be heading into the top corner, but first choice ‘keeper Michael Duggan managed to react in time to get across and make a routine save. Experienced midfielder Neil MacKenzie, who had scored against Rushden & Diamonds for Tamworth last season, looked to repeat that feat with two long range efforts, but both narrowly cleared the bar.
The visitors were competing really well in the opening stages, and didn’t seem at all phased by their more illustrious opponents, and on 9 minutes they again went close to opening the scoring when a Hilliard corner found Bjorn Kleinhans, but the striker couldn’t keep down his difficult volley. Two minutes later, Rodney Snow went on the first of many mazy runs down the right flank, getting almost to the byline before firing in a shot which was well held by Adam Batten. A minute later, Chai Simons got clear down the opposite flank and also tried a shot from a tight angle, but Batten was equal to it and pushed the ball behind for a corner.
After 15 minutes, Kleinhans again went close for the Diamonds when his strength and tenacity caused problems for the Saints defence following a long through into the box, but he could only hook a difficult effort wide of the post. After this third early scare the home side decided to up their performance and began to take a firm grip of the game, moving the ball around with ease and allowing Rushden very little opportunity for possession. A powerful 25 yard drive by trialist Seni was well held by Batten, before another long range MacKenzie effort flew narrowly wide of the post. On 20 minutes the Saints got the breakthrough they had been threatening, as Chai Simons latched onto pass just inside the Diamonds penalty area, before turning smartly and curling an inch perfect shot just inside the far post, giving Batten no chance. A minute later the scoreline was almost doubled as Rushden lost possession cheaply from the restart, but a low cross from the right wing by trialist Leonard was pushed away by Batten and turned behind for another corner. The resultant corner kick was taken short and played low into the area where Simons found himself with only Batten to beat, but the Diamonds stopper threw himself at the shot and made a great save from point blank range.
Rushden attacks were becoming more and more infrequent, but they did manage another effort on goal after 26 minutes, the nippy Kai Robertson doing really well to set up Louis Smith just outside the box, but the midfielder’s effort was comfortable for Duggan. St Neots went straight up the other end and fashioned a great chance to make it 2-0, Leonard’s overhead kick falling kindly for Simons, level with the penalty spot, but his shot produced probably the best stop of the game from Batten, who pulled off an outstanding one handed save low down to his right. Simons again went close shortly after the half hour mark as he attempted a carbon copy of his goal, but this time the shot went narrowly over the bar. Two minutes later, Snow looked to have scored a second St Neots goal when he burst down the right flank, cut inside and fired in a shot that cannoned off the underside of the crossbar, but the assistant referee signalled that the ball had bounced back out into play and not over the goal line.
As half time approached, the home side had two further chances to extend their lead, Snow again breaking away down the right but chipping over the bar with only Batten to beat, before Leonard was denied by another stunning point blank save from the Diamonds keeper.
HT: St Neots Town XI 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds XI
Clearly not content with only a single goal half time advantage, St Neots threw on some of their big guns in an attempt to make the game safe. First choice strikers Shane Tolley and Stefan Moore entered the fray, the latter with two Premier League goals to his name from his time at Aston Villa earlier in his career. The substitutions did the trick for the home side, as within 6 minutes of the restart it was 2-0. Neither striker was involved however, as Simons’ right wing cross was turned in from close range at the back post by Rodney Snow. AFC R&D responded well with Lewis Hilliard bursting forward and hitting a powerful shot from 25 yards, but his effort cleared the goal without worrying Duggan.
On the hour mark, Diamonds manager Mark Starmer replaced former R&D captain Chris Hope with Elliott Ames, Hope leaving the pitch to a great reception from the Rushden faithful who had attended.
With 66 minutes on the clock St Neots netted their third goal of the game, the impressive Snow once again involved, breaking down the left wing before firing in a low cross/shot which deflected into the net off the unfortunate Ames for an own goal. Three minutes later the visitors forced Duggan into one of his few saves of the game, as a low corner was volleyed towards goal by Hilliard with Kai Robertson helping the ball on its way, but the Saints ‘keeper was across quickly to palm the ball out.
This effort seemed to spur on the AFC players, and the final 20 minutes saw them enjoy probably their best spell of the game. A good move down the left wing saw Robertson break away from his marker, but his pull back was just behind substitute Josh Poulson who couldn’t quite wrap his foot around the ball with his shot ending up well wide of the goal. Whenever the Diamonds attacked, however, the home side would break with great pace and they nearly extended their lead from one such break. Webb chased onto a long ball from the back and just reached it ahead of Adam Batten who could only force him wide, but when the ball was laid back into the path of Moore his 20 yard shot curled just wide of the upright with the goal at his mercy.
The next scoring chance fell to the visitors, who were desperate to get the goal their efforts deserved, Poulson showing good determination to get away down the right flank before crossing the ball into the middle to substitute Zaak Moon, but the midfielder’s goal bound shot was brilliantly blocked by a Saints defender. Three minutes later the home side were caught in possession as they pressed forwards allowing the Diamonds to break forwards through Moon who laid the ball into the path of Kleinhans, but the striker opted to shoot from 25 yards with two players up in support and his effort went harmlessly wide.
From the resultant goal kick, the Saints played themselves into trouble with Rushden winning back possession just outside the penalty area, but once again the shot was narrowly off target, Hilliard this time failing to test Duggan.
With just 5 minutes remaining, another quick St Neots break resulted in their fourth goal of the game. Webb burst through from midfield and was faced with just Batten between him and the goal. The Rushden ‘keeper looked to have made another great save as Webb attempted to curl the ball around him, but just as it looked to be heading past the post the spin on the ball saw it deviate off the turf and cruelly nestle into the corner of the net instead.
Two minutes later, Poulson nearly got himself a debut goal with a snapshot from 20 yards that appeared to catch out Duggan, but with the Saints ‘keeper well beaten the ball flew inches wide of the post. Straight from the goal kick the home side had a chance to make it 5-0 as Snow once again sprinted away down the left, but he was denied not for the first time by the excellent Batten.
Within a minute, Rushden finally got the goal they deserved. Mark Rust got forwards from right back to support the attack, and his cross into the penalty area saw a defender slip as he tried to clear the danger, with Bjorn Kleinhans on hand to bring the ball under control and smash it into the net past the helpless Duggan.
Determined not to let their opponents have the last word, however, the Saints netted a fifth and final goal in the last minute of the match, as Ryan Sharman’s diving header from a left wing corner just squeezed through the gap between Batten and the defender on the post.
FT: St Neots Town XI 5-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds XI
The young AFC Rushden & Diamonds side can take great pride in their performance against one of the best teams in the Southern League Division One. There were some very promising individual performances from several players not currently in the starting eleven for the Northants Senior Youth League games, which will give Mark Starmer a pleasant selection headache going into the next game, away to Daventry Town on Thursday 22nd September. The Diamonds will be looking for a repeat of their 3-0 victory over Daventry in the first game of the season.
Man of the Match: Adam Batten
St Neots Town XI
AFC Rushden & Diamonds XI
|1. Michael Duggan
2. Max Algrave
3. Rene Steer
4. Sam Spencer
5. Jordan Gent
6. Neil MacKenzie (c)
7. Dan Jacobs
8. Seni (Trialist)
9. Chai Simons
10. Leonard (Trialist)
11. Rodney Snow
|24. Adam Batten
2. Mark Rust
17. Dan Paterson
5. Chris Hope
15. Adam Ziolkowski
6. Blake Helsdown
7. Lewis Hilliard
22. Louis Smith
9. Bjorn Kleinhans
10. Kai Robertson
8. Zach Farden (c)
14. Lewis Webb (for Sam Spencer, 45)
15. Shane Tolley (for Dan Jacobs, 45)
16. Adrian Sears (for Jordan Gent, 45)
17. Ryan Sharman (for Seni, 45)
18. Stefan Moore (for Leonard, 45)
3. Brad Mellows (for Adam Ziolkowski, 60)
11. Jeron Thompson (for Blake Helsdown, 66)
13. Josh Poulson (for Bjorn Kleinhans, 64)
14. Zaak Moon (for Louis Smith, 45)
16. Elliott Ames (for Chris Hope, 60)
Simons (20 mins)
Snow (51 mins)
Ames o.g. (66 mins)
Webb (85 mins)
Sharman (90 mins)
Kleinhans (87 mins)
All Images courtesy of Mal Swinden