Thomas Beckett Football Academy 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / MAA 2

AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18 / MAA put their title destiny in their own hands by defeating their main division rivals Thomas Beckett Football Academy 2-1.

Matt Pinder got his 26th goal of the season and centre back Chris Knapp continued his goalscoring run of scoring in each of the last six games.

The day started off in the worse possible way as Jacob Kearney and Luke Garner, who were both originally due to start the game, were injured in the warm up. Therefore Chris Knapp and Nathan Weekes took their place in the starting eleven.

The game started out in a way that the scholars were not particularly used to. Thomas Beckett knew that they had to win this game to be in with a chance of clawing back the title race from Diamonds’ clutches. So they went out and attacked from the first whistle, leaving the scholars free to counter attack.

In the game of the two best teams in the league, Diamonds defended well when called upon and countered quickly.

Diamonds managed to take the lead after 42 minutes. Following a run by Ryan Kirk through midfield, he was recklessly brought down inches outside the penalty area. Top scorer Matt Pinder stepped up right footed to fire the ball into the top corner from the free kick, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance with the pace of the ball. Diamonds lead 1-0.

Half Time. Thomas Beckett 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / MAA.

Diamonds were often limited to counter attacks, particularly after going a goal ahead. However when they did break, they broke quickly and found some joy with these attacks. They also tested the Thomas Beckett defence with set-pieces, and were unfortunate not to make one count in the second half.

Then with one minute of normal time remaining, Thomas Beckett got the equaliser they were pushing for all game. Goalkeeper Rhys Redding had come out of his goal and called the ball as substitute Ben Peaks cleared it away. But the ball fell to the Thomas Beckett winger who crossed the ball towards the back post, where there were three attackers waiting to knock the ball into an empty net.

But two minutes into injury time, Diamonds found a late winner. Threatening all game with set-pieces, they finally made one count. Substitute Harrison Desborough’s corner was met by defender Knapp, who scored for the sixth game in a row, at the back post.

Full Time. Thomas Beckett 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / MAA.

Team: Redding, Grundy, Knapp, Roache, Uddin, Leeson, Kirk (c), Weeks, Hewett, Pinder.

Subs: Barnes, Kearney, Garner, Peaks, Desborough, Ackroyd.

Manager Darren Purse said after the game. “It was a nightmare way to start with Jacob [Kearney] and Luke [Garner] getting injured in the warm, especially with two big games in two days. But the two lads who come in slotted in nicely. Matty’s [Pinder] goal was superb, he hit it with real power, the goalkeeper had no chance. But on 89 minutes, everything is going swimmingly we conceded a sloppy goal. At that time, I was disappointed to concede, particularly as we were so comfortable but, I was happy with a point. I said to the lads at the end, I was happy as long as we didn’t get beat. But Harrison [Desborough], who has been quality recently, put in a great cross for Knapp to head in. I’m not surprised we’re scoring from set-pieces, because we have the quality in there. If you put in a good cross, we’ve got the ability to go and attack it. So attacking wise, we’ll go and put our head on it, but defensively we won’t for some reason or another. The corner we got the winner from was never a corner. I apologised to the Thomas Beckett manager because it was a critical decision that cost them the game. I’ll take it though because we’ve had our fair share of bad luck, so we were due a lucky decision.