26.2.2022

Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Collard (75)

Hednesford Town

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Harvey Portman

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Stratford Town (H) 5.3.22

The Pitmen are handed their second 1-0 defeat of the week this afternoon as play-off chasing AFC Rushden & Diamonds grab the all-important winning goal with fifteen minutes remaining to continue their fine run of recent form

Having been on the end of a 1-0 reverse at Stratford Town in midweek, the Pitmen made the journey down to Northamptonshire with two changes to the side that had started at Knights Lane as Lewis Hayden and Riley O'Sullivan came into the side in place of Kyle Bennett and Chay Tilt respectively

Diamonds returned to Hayden Road in ominous form, having won seven of their past nine league games to consolidate their place in the final play-off spot in the Southern Premier League Central. Interim boss Andy Burgess - who had taken the reigns this week following Andy Peaks' departure to Tamworth - made one change to his side from the one that had beaten Barwell two weeks previously as debutant Shane Bush came in up front in place of the now-departed Ty Deacon, who had joined National League North neighbours Kettering Town

The recent spell of wet and wild weather had left the Hayden Road in a poor state, with the playing surface bobbly and dug up in places, making passing football challenging for both sides in the opening exchanges. The Pitmen controlled possession in the first ten minutes as they enjoyed time inside the Diamonds half and went closest to opening the scoring in the seventh minute as Lewis Ison headed Reece Flanagan's corner kick towards goal at the far post, but saw his effort turned behind by Paddy Casey for another corner kick

Two minutes later, a deep Carter Lycett corner kick to the far post found the head of new boy Harvey Portman, who was lurking six yards from goal, but his header drifted wide of goal as he beat Fernando Bell-Toxtle to the ball

At the other end, the rather portly Liam Dolman made a run into the Hednesford penalty area in the twelfth minute to meet an inswinging corner kick from Connor Furlong and headed straight into the arms of on-loan Joe O'Shaughnessy

Both sides were guilty of playing simple passes straight to the opposition or slicing the ball out of play as the pitch continued to frustrate both sets of players. Todd Parker played Wes Atkinson into space down the right on sixteen minutes, with the right-back's deep cross just evading O'Sullivan as he challenged Dolman just inside the Rushden penalty area

George Cater's surging run towards the Diamonds penalty area in the eighteenth minute saw the winger jink his way past Sam Warburton but his shot was well blocked by the recovering defender as Cater elected to take one touch too many to work the ball onto his right foot

Both sides were content to look for openings from set-pieces, with Diamonds forcing successive corners out on the right-wing midway through the half. O'Sullivan dropped back to assist his defenders and made a timely clearance from Furlong's cross to deny Dolman a clear-cut chance. The ball was recycled by the hosts and Furlong's second cross was cleared by skipper Lewis Ison, under pressure from opposition skipper Alex Collard

There were muted calls for a penalty kick from the men in sky blue on twenty-six minutes as Flanagan's free-kick was floated into the Rushden penalty area and appeared to strike the hand of Warburton, only for referee Mr Eley to dismiss the Pitmen's claims and allow Rushden to clear their lines

Former Hemel Hempstead Town goalkeeper Dean Snedker - in superb form at the moment for the hosts - made a fine save three minutes later as O'Sullivan's low shot from the edge of the penalty area took a huge selection off Dolman and nearly wrong-footed the stopper, who made an excellent instinctive stop down to his left to push the ball away from goal

Andre Landell - struggled to get a foothold in the game as one of the inside forwards - went down clutching his leg on thirty-four minutes after a clash in midfield with former Hednesford loanee AJ George. He received treatment from therapist Shannon Kincade before gingerly getting back to his feet and continued with the game

A deep free-kick from Rushden on thirty-six minutes from Bell-Toxtle was flicked on at the near post by Bush and into the path of George, who was denied a shot at goal but the excellent Portman who did well to step across the forwards and take the ball away from him before the former Mansfield Town man could shoot

Landell was forced off on thirty-eight minutes as he went down once more and admitted defeat with the knock picked up a few minutes earlier; he limped off the pitch and was replaced by Tilt, which prompted a slight tweak in formation as Cater switched wings momentarily to allow for Tilt's introduction

Diamonds skipper Collard went closest for the hosts on forty-one minutes as he headed just over the crossbar after meeting Warburton's free-kick from the left at the far post with a powerful header

The final action of a low-key first period saw Cater make another one of his mazy runs in from the left-wing, skipping past Collard and the aptly-named Ben Diamond before lifting his twenty-yard effort over the crossbar

It had been a low-key first-half showing from both sides, with only a handful of half-chances at both ends as both teams had struggled to create much in the way of openings. The Pitmen had done well to check their in-form hosts' confidence but had really struggled to make any headway in the final third of the pitch

Diamonds started the second half with real purpose, pushing the Pitmen back into their own third of the pitch in the opening exchanges. Warburton seized upon a loose header from Atkinson just a couple of minutes after the restart and struck a left-footed effort at goal from fully thirty yards out that skipped inches wide of O'Shaughnessy's right-hand post

 

However, it was the visitors that were to have the best chance of the game so far on forty-nine minutes as O'Sullivan's slide-rule pass played Tilt clean through on goal. Tilt checked his run initially, perhaps expecting an offside flag against him, allowing Snedker to make up ground and make a fine block with his legs to turn Tilt's goalbound effort away from goal

A good run from Atkinson on fifty-three minutes saw the full-back get on the end of Todd Parker's pass and send a cross over towards Tilt at the far post, only for the substitute to just fail to get to the ball as he stretched to reach the cross

Flanagan wasted a good chance for the away side fifty-six minutes as he shot high over the crossbar after Tilt had been brought down by Casey in a good position just outside the Rushden penalty area

More good possession from the Pitmen on the hour mark saw Parker, Cater and O'Sullivan all involved as a fifteen-pass move from the visitors dragged Rushden across the pitch before Cater lost the ball at the crucial moment to the right of the penalty area

An attacking double change for the hosts on sixty-four minutes saw Bush replaced by Jesse Akubuine and George taken off in place of Will Jones - scorer of the late, late Diamonds' winner in the reverse fixture in November

The home side were more direct in their approach from hereon in as they pushed Hednesford back into their own third of the pitch in search of the all-important opening goal. On sixty-eight minutes, a quick break from the hosts saw Bell-Toxtle's pass find Furlong, whose run and attempted shot was turned behind by the switched-on Portman

The physical Akubuine was proving to be a tough customer for the Pitmen to deal with, as he won a free-kick on seventy-four minutes after being brought down by Lycett just outside the penalty area. Furlong's delivery was aimed at Dolman, who was denied by a timely interception by Flanagan to turn the ball behind for a Rushden corner kick

Diamonds struck what was to be the winning goal from the resultant corner kick as Furlong's right-wing flag-kick was played to the far post, where Collard had the simple task of heading home unchallenged from close-range for his fifth goal of the season

In a reaction to Diamonds taking the lead, the Pitmen made their second substitution of the game a minute later as Bennett was sent on to work his magic as he replaced the struggling Hayden, who had looked a little out of his depth

Diamonds looked the more likely of the two sides to score again as the game moved into the final ten minutes, with Furlong's quick break on eighty-one minutes resulting in Atkinson bringing the winger down in a dangerous position. Nathan Tshikuna took the resultant free-kick but saw his inswinging free-kick cleared by Ison before Akubuine could get to the ball

Snedker spotted a quick Pitmen break two minutes later, hacking the ball clear on the edge of his penalty area to deny Tilt a run at goal following Parker's long-raking ball forwards

Jones was denied a clear run at goal by Portman's challenge a minute later as the young defender brought the Rushden substitute down in full flow, with Portman only receiving a ticking off from Mr Eley for the tackle

With six minutes remaining, youth team player Numair Rashad was handed his Hednesford debut by manager Keenen Meakin-Richards as he came on in midfield to replace Tilt, who was injured

Tshikuna's afternoon was brought to a halt with four minutes remaining as the midfield man was taken off in favour of Matt Slinn in what was Rushden's final change of the afternoon

O'Sullivan was to be denied an equaliser for the Pitmen in the eighty-ninth minute as he turned quickly on Cater's low cross and shot at goal, only to see his initial shot blocked by Dolman; the ball looped up and back into the striker's path, only for his goalbound header to be cleared off the line by the alert Casey

The Pitmen's season is now starting to peter out quickly, as they lie fifteen points off the play-off places with only twelve games remaining and in inconsistent form. The focus will start to turn to next season's squad as Meakin-Richards will start to make decisions on some of the players at his disposal and whether they form the basis of the Hednesford squad for the 2022-2023 season or not. Next up - a welcome return to the PRG Stadium @ Keys Park and a chance to exact swift revenge on Stratford Town as the Bards make the trip up to South Staffordshire following their 1-0 win over the Pitmen this week

AFC Rushden & Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle, Dolman, Collard ©, Tshikuna (Slinn 86), Diamond, Bush (Akubuine 64), George (Jones 64), Furlong      Subs Unused: Hughes, Snelus

Hednesford Town: O'Shaughnessy, Atkinson, Lycett, Portman, Ison ©, Flanagan, Cater, Parker, O'Sullivan, Hayden (Bennett 76), Landell (Tilt 38 (Rashad 84))     Subs Unused: Endall, Williams

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