AFC Rushden & Diamonds succumbed to their first defeat of the UCL Premier 2014-15 season at the hands of Yaxley FC.
On an overcast day at Leading Drove, Yaxley took the lead on the half-hour mark when a cross was only half dealt with by the Diamonds defence, and an effort from just inside the penalty area found its way into the net. The Cuckoos extended their lead just after half time when a nice move led to a cross being slid home at the back post, and although Fazel Koriya halved the deficit shortly after, the Diamonds were left to rue a missed penalty and several squandered chances in the closing stages of the contest.
Diamonds manager Andy Peaks named an unchanged side to the one that performed so admirably at Hendon FC last Saturday in the FA Cup, with faith being kept in the midfield trio of Brad Harris, Richard Bunting and Adam Confue, and Jason Turner starting in the lone role up front. They were onto the attack almost straight from the kick off, with Confue hitting a left footed effort from the edge of the area straight at Yaxley goalkeeper Aaron Butcher after an advantage had been played for a foul on Joe Merrill.
It was Merrill again who helped to set up the next chance in the seventh minute: his ball into Turner led to a cross that Fazel Koriya volleyed at goal, but the ball was deflected over the crossbar for a corner. Turner then had a chance of his own shortly after, but he could only weakly place his shot straight at Butcher after an archetypal diagonal ball over the top from Liam Dolman.
Yaxley fashioned their first opportunity of the game in the 14th minute, when Scott Carter was able to find a pocket of space in behind the Diamonds midfield; he fed the ball through to winger Callum Reed, who checked back inside Dolman and curled a shot just over Matt Finlay’s goal.
After the initial flurry of chances, the game then descended into a tight, scrappy midfield battle, with the Diamonds struggling to get the ball down on the slightly overgrown pitch and create any tempo or urgency. Yaxley, however, always looked dangerous when running at the Diamonds back four, and one of these moments led to the opening goal. On 30 minutes, a long ball through found Reed in behind Joe Henderson down the right, and his cross was half cleared by Dolman straight to midfielder Scott Carter, who drove the ball into the middle of the net.
Just like in their last league game at Harrowby, Diamonds found themselves a goal down and in need of a quick response. They almost had it when Merrill was fouled near the right corner flag, and Koriya’s delivery was met by a strong header by Henderson, but it was right into the hands of the Cuckoos goalkeeper. One final chance was created on the stroke of half time, when a Sam Brown cross ran through for Confue to chip back into the penalty area and find Matt Gearing, whose first time volley was parried away to safety by Butcher.
Half Time: Yaxley FC 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Any thoughts that Yaxley would just protect the lead that they had were quickly dispelled when they took a 2-0 lead three minutes after the interval. A quick turnover in possession led to Dan Cotton feeding the ball out wide to Reed, who provided a pinpoint cross for striker Andy Furnell to fire past Finlay at the back post. It could have been 3-0 in the 52nd minute, but after receiving the ball from Rob Hughes, Cotton could only curl an effort wide of the left-hand post.
These early moments of the second half acted as a wake-up call for Rushden, and they almost had a goal back on 55 minutes when Koriya flicked the ball into the path of Turner, but his half-volley went past the Yaxley near post. However, they weren’t to be denied for long. One minute later, roles were reversed as Turner dropped deep to pick up the ball and cross for Fazel Koriya, who was initially denied by Butcher’s outstretched foot, but he swept home the rebound to the relief of all Diamonds fans around the ground.
The tone of the rest of the game was set following that goal, with Diamonds applying almost constant pressure in an attempt to find an equalising goal. Elliot Lamb-Johnson was brought on from the bench, and his introduction led to a change in tactics for Peaks’ team, with Koriya and Lamb-Johnson now pushing further forward to support Turner up front. This also encouraged Merrill to make more of his trademark driving runs, and it was his cross that found the head of Harris, but he could only loop the ball wide of the Yaxley net.
A fantastic opportunity to level the game was awarded in the 65th minute, when a ball in behind the home defence by Lamb-Johnson ran for Turner to push past the keeper, but Butcher brought down the Diamonds front man. Referee Gavin Jolley had no doubt in pointing for a penalty-kick; however, Koriya’s weak effort was easily turned away by Butcher diving to his left.
The Diamonds kept searching and searching for a leveller though, and just as the clock ticked into the 74th minute, Turner drove into the left side of the penalty box and pulled the ball across for Koriya. He held the ball up well, and tried to find Harris who had made a move into the area, but the Cuckoos defence was somehow able to smuggle the ball away from danger. Tom Lorraine had entered the fray by this time, and his entrance seemed to push Diamonds further and further forward in the latter stages.
On 78 minutes, it was Turner again causing trouble to the Yaxley backline, as he latched onto a ball forward from Dolman: he in turn chipped the ball across for Koriya, but despite the ball sitting up nicely for the Diamonds number 10, he could only volley over the bar. As Yaxley sat deeper in their efforts to preserve their 100% home league record, it seemed like a moment of magic would be needed to make a breakthrough, and it was Turner who almost provided it. With 2 minutes remaining, a Lamb-Johnson cross was headed away to the edge of the box, where the ex-Wellingborough man was lurking. He jinked past one tired challenge, and unleashed a bullet of a strike that hit the top of the crossbar and went behind.
Despite a late gung-ho effort on the Yaxley goal, Diamonds weren’t able to find an equaliser, and the referee sounded his whistle for the conclusion of the match along with the end of the Diamonds unbeaten start to the league season.
Full Time: Yaxley FC 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Despite a disappointing setback for the Diamonds, a lot of heart can be taken from the level of performance shown after falling 2 goals behind, and with their league campaign only being 4 games old, there will be plenty of opportunities during the rest of the season to make up for days like today. The first of these comes on Tuesday evening, when they travel to face Newport Pagnell Town in the UCL Premier.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Sam Brown
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Aaron Butcher
2. John Paul Duncliffe
3. Luke Hipwell
4. Liam Hook
5. Lewis Stone
6. Wayne Morris (C)
7. Callum Reed
8. Scott Carter
9. Andy Furnell
10. Rob Hughes
11. Dan Cotton
12. Gavin Cooke
14. Kyle Nolan (for Cotton 76)
15. Nick Davey (for Furnell 59)
16. Andy Coleman
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Joe Henderson
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting
9. Jason Turner
10. Fazel Koriya
11. Adam Confue
12. Arron Parkinson
13. Rhys Redding
14. Tom Lorraine (for Harris 76)
15. Greg Ling
16. Elliot Lamb-Johnson (for Gearing 59)
Goals: Carter (30), Furnell (48)
Goals: Koriya (56)
Yellow Cards: Hipwell (87)
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Gavin Jolley
Assistants: William Hardie, Christopher Watkins