Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Smith (15) (penalty), Fairlamb (69)

Hednesford Town

Sweeney (76)

(1) 2

(0) 1



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Cameron Gregory



Royston Town (A) 24.10.20

The Pitmen fail to follow up last week's morale-boosting win over Stratford Town this afternoon as they fall to a tame defeat at AFC Rushden & Diamonds to hand Keenen Meakin-Richards his first defeat as interim manager

Last week's win had ended a run of three successive defeats for the Pitmen that had left them bottom of the table before moving up to the heady heights of nineteenth place in the league table. Meakin-Richards had spent the week making changes to the under-performing squad, allowing Lee Smith to depart for Chasetown and loan both Dan Preston and John Dodd to join Sutton Coldfield Town on loan. Defender Kyle Rowley returned to the club for a third spell from Walsall Wood, whilst Rowley's former team-mate at Walsall Reece Flanagan made the move from league rivals Stratford Town. Young winger Taylor Allen was the third addition to the squad, joining the Pitmen on a month's loan from League Two side Forest Green Rovers

Rushden had made a good start to the season, including a 7-1 win over Hitchin Town earlier in the campaign, although they arrived back at Hayden Road off the back of a 1-0 defeat to Bromsgrove Sporting last weekend. Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the side that had started at the Victoria Ground with Ryan Hughes and Lorrell Smith coming in for Jack Ashton and Matt Slinn

An early spell of pressure from Diamonds saw the Pitmen on the back foot in the opening minutes, with a quick break involving Chris Wreh and Smith playing skipper Tom Lorraine in on goal in the second minute. His angled drive was deflected goalwards before being cleared off the line by Callam Mendez-Jones

Four minutes later, on-loan Shrewsbury keeper Cameron Gregory made a comfortable save to deny Wreh after good link-up play just outside the Hednesford penalty area played the former Stratford and Rushall mn in on goal

Dan Sweeney had the Pitmen's first sight at goal in the ninth minute as he was played into space by a delightful crossfield ball from Louis Dodds, driving in a shot across the face of goal after taking a couple of touches inside the Diamonds penalty area

However, more defensive frailties were to cost the Pitmen once more on fifteen minutes as they handed Rushden a chance to take the lead by conceding a penalty; a quick break down the right flank saw Smith cross for Luke Fairlamb, whose effort was turned onto the crossbar by Wreh from close-range; the ball ran loose to Jesse Akubuine, who was brought down by Gregory as he attempted to turn the ball home from a tight angle. The referee Mr Ricardo had no hesitation in awarding the hosts a penalty kick which Smith took and sent Gregory the wrong way from the spot to give Rushden the lead

The Pitmen almost produced an immediate reply five minutes later as debutant Allen went agonisingly close to grabbing a goal on his first start for the club. Dodds sprayed another fine ball out to Sweeney, who showed Hughes a clean pair of heels to cross for Danny Glover. The ball was partially cleared by Rushden to the edge of the penalty area, where Allen picked the ball up before firing goalwards and seeing his effort come back off the post before Sweeney picked up the loose ball but was adjudged to be offside

A superb run from Fairlamb on twenty-four minutes saw him skip past a half-hearted challenge from Sam Griffiths down the left flank before testing Gregory's reflexes with a low shot that the stopper turned away at his near post

A minute later, Dodds headed a good chance wide of the Pitmen from close-range after Rhys Thompson had sent in a deep free-kick that was headed back across goal by skipper Ben Bailey

Rushden and the ball in the net again on thirty-one minutes as the burly Lorraine powerfully home after getting on the end of a cross from Zack Reynolds, only to be denied a goal by a marginal offside flag against him

With their next attack, the Pitmen hit the woodwork again for the second time in the half as a deep cross from Griffiths is flicked on by Dan Turner, only for his header to come off the top of the crossbar and deny the striker another goal toad to his brace from last weekend


Gregory was once again on his toes to deny Fairlamb on thirty-five minutes, saving well with his legs to deny the dangerous midfielder after the Pitmen had played themselves into trouble in their own half and given the ball away in a crucial area of the pitch

Three minutes later, another fine save from Gregory saw him deny Fairlamb once more, as he pushed the Rushden player's goalbound effort away from goal at full stretch after Fairlamb had cut inside from the left-wing

With two minutes of the first-half remaining, Smith felt that he had a legitimate shout for a penalty kick as he went down under a challenge from Bailey, but Mr Ricardo waved away the striker's protests


 It had been another indifferent half from the Pitmen, who had looked error-prone at the back and lightweight in midfield against a Rushden side that had played with plenty of pace and intent on the counter-attack

The hosts continued to have the better of the chances at the start of the second half as Fairlamb once again got the better of Griffiths down the left and crossed for Smith, only for his scuffed effort at the near post to be gathered by Gregory

Bailey was the first and only player to earn himself a yellow card on fifty-four minutes as he was rightly booked for a short pull on Smith to stop the striker from getting away from him

The Pitmen made their first change of the afternoon on the hour mark as the disappointing Thompson was hauled off and replaced in midfield by new signing Flanagan

The home side continued to look the more likely to extend their lead against a shot-shy Hednesford side and went close to doubling their lead on sixty-three minutes as a corner kick from the left side of the pitch was headed narrowly over the bar from close-range by Alex Collard

Two minutes later, more defensive dithering from the Pitmen saw a long ball forwards pounced on by Smith as both Bailey and Allen allowed the striker to nip in and strike a shot at goal, only for Gregory to turn the ball away from the target

Gregory's man of the match display continued on sixty-seven minutes as he made another timely stop with his legs to deny Wreh after the striker had been put through on goal by Fairlamb's slide-rule pass

Fairlamb was to grab Rushden's second goal of the game two minutes later with a superb strike, but only after the Pitmen had been handed a great chance to equalise at the other end; Dodds picked up a partially cleared cover kick and found Sweeney in the Rushden penalty area, only for the striker to horribly miscue his shot at goal and allow Rushden to break quickly. The ball found Fairlamb down the left flank, who once again proved to be too good for Griffiths as he turned past the right-back and fired home with a brilliantly executed strike from a tight angle

On seventy-two minutes, the visitors made their second substitution of the game as Glover was replaced by Carter Lycett; this move saw Allen moved from left-back to centre-forward to allow for the change in personnel

Two minutes later, Dodds was the third and final player taken off by the Pitmen as he was replaced by George Cater. Sweeney was deployed in a deeper role behind the strikers as Cater moved into the inside forward role previously taken by Sweeney

The away side got themselves back into the game with fourteen minutes remaining as danger man Sweeney added to his goal last weekend with another powerful strike; Mendez-Jones fed the striker midway into the Rushden half, with the former Solihull man holding off three challenges en route to goal before firing confidently past Richard Walton in the Rushden goal from twenty yards out

Despite getting themselves back into contention, the Pitmen were severely limited in their attacking threat in the closing stages of the game as Rushden did a good job in running the clock down. Indeed, it was the hosts that almost added to their tally on eighty-five minutes as more poor defending from the Pitmen allowed Reynolds to nip in and get a shot away, only for Mendez-Jones to deflect his effort wide for a corner kick. From the resultant corner kick, Collard rose highest at the far post but headed narrowly wide of the far post after heading back across the face of goal

Another disappointing afternoon on their travels for the Pitmen, who had been largely second best for the much of the game against a more polished Rushden side. Meakin-Richards has another full week to make more potential changes to a squad that, very simply put, doesn't look capable of being competitive at step three in its current form, still lacking quality in several key positions. Another side struggling to get their campaign underway are up next for the Pitmen, as they travel to Royston Town next weekend still looking for their first away win of the new season

AFC Rushden & Diamonds: Walton, Reynolds, Hughes, Casey, Bell-Toxtle, Collard, Fairlamb, Akubuine (Oulton 60), Lorraine ©, Smith (Slinn 73), Wreh (Mutswunguma 84)      Subs Unused; Heath, Gyasi

Hednesford Town: Gregory, Griffiths, Allen, Bailey © ,  Mendez-Jones, Hallahan, Sweeney, Thompson (Flanagan 60), Glover (Lycett 72), Dodds (Cater 74), Turner        Sub Unused: Rowley, Veiga

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