In their final game of the 2013-14 season, AFC Rushden & Diamonds made hard work of securing a 3-0 victory over Stewarts & Lloyds Corby at Occupation Road on Saturday afternoon. They had opened the scoring through Scott Joseph after 3 minutes when he looped a header over Foundrymen keeper Corey McGovern from a Sam Brown cross. After 16 minutes Joe Henderson doubled the lead as he headed home a Matt Gearing corner. The game then declined into a very poor spectacle, brightened only by a well-taken goal from Joe Merrill as he fired home a free kick from just outside of the area after 84 minutes.
Diamonds Manager Andy Peaks kept the same starting line-up from the Easter Monday game, with Joe Merrill returning to the bench. A blustery wind across the Occupation Road pitch added to the challenge of the rather uneven and sloping surface.
After the Diamonds had forced a couple of early corners they went ahead after three minutes, as the ball was cleared out to Sam Brown on the left, and his well-hit cross found the head of Scott Joseph who looped a header over keeper Corey McGovern.
The Diamonds continued to dominate, but the next time they tested McGovern was after 15 minutes when a long-range shot from Matt Gearing was only parried by the Foundrymen keeper, but he did well to keep out two follow-up efforts from Scott Joseph.
Within a minute the Diamonds had doubled their lead, as the corner from the right was cleared for a corner from the left, with Matt Gearing taking both, and the second found the head of Joe Henderson whose powerful effort left McGovern with little chance.
The remainder of the half was rather scrappy, with Jamal Clarke twice heading over the bar from close range from Gearing corners. At the other end the home side went close through their stand-out player Matthew Keenleyside, who was making only his second start for the side, as he capitalised on a slip from Joe Henderson and forced Matt Finlay into one of his few saves of the game. Henderson had picked up a knock shortly beforehand when making a solid challenge in midfield, and he was then replaced by Joe Merrill.
Scott Joseph had two further efforts saved, and fired another just wide before the interval.
Half-Time: Stewarts & Lloyds Corby 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Any thoughts that the half-time team-talks might energise the game were quickly forgotten as the game struggled to provide any entertainment after the break.
Gearing and Merrill did start to threaten on the right, with both players not afraid to take on the home defence, with Tom Lorraine also getting in a good cross from the right that presented an early chance for substitute Greg Ling. Joe Merrill also forced keeper McGovern to parry a well hit shot as the Diamonds fans thought back to his only goal of the season, the vital equaliser at London Colney back in August, without which the Diamonds season might have been so different.
Jack Ashton has been a really significant addition to the Diamonds defence in recent weeks, but he showed he could also get forwards with a brave break down the left, although he could not get in a telling cross. To their credit the home side continued to battle hard in both defence and midfield, without really creating too much going forwards.
Just as it looked like the Diamonds might have to be content with sharing the spoils in a poor second half they won a free kick about 20 yards from goal in the right channel. With both Matt Gearing and Richard Bunting having scored directly from free-kicks for the club, in an area that has provided a poor return (and lots of skied shots), it was perhaps a surprise to see Joe Merrill run forwards and blast the ball through a gap in the defensive wall and into the net. Although the goal was much higher quality than the standard of football on offer in the second period, it was an appropriate end to a successful season for the club, with excellent runs in the FA Cup and FA Vase complementing a third-place finish in their first season at Step 5 level
Full-Time: Stewarts & Lloyds Corby 0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3
Diamonds Man of the Match: Richard Bunting
Stewarts & Lloyds Corby
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Corey McGovern
2. Branko Djujic
3. Adam Saunders
4. Kieran Malone
5. Tony Bartlett
6. Matthew Keenleysite
7. Fraser Glover
8. Kieran Jakes.
9. Milan Ceko
10. Patrick Hamill
11. Leon Trimble
12. Conor Duncan (for Glover 75)
14. Richard Icke (for Keenleysite 81)
15. Lee Watson (for Hamill 75)
16. James Rutter
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Henderson
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Jack Ashton
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Scott Joseph
11. Fazel Koriya
12. Russ Dunkley
13. Adam Whybrow
14. Greg Ling (for Koriya 62)
15. Séan McBride (for Harris 65)
16. Joe Merrill (for Henderson 39)
Goals: Joseph (3), Henderson (16), Merrill (84)
Yellow Cards: Jakes
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Wayne Chalmers
Assistants: Junior Jones-Eyre, Ben Haigh