Every title race has its ups and downs and twists and turns.
And AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ bid to claim the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central crown hit a major dip at the the Dog & Duck as Kings Langley sealed a 1-0 win to throw the race for automatic promotion wide open.
The game had got the build-up it deserved.
It was first versus second and a big opportunity for both teams with Diamonds being able to move seven points clear with a win while victory for the visitors would result in the gap at the summit being cut to just a single point.
In the end, it was the latter that happened and there could be few arguments.
The Diamonds players’ invitation to the party must have been lost in the post because they simply didn’t turn up.
From the moment the game got under way, things just didn’t feel right.
The performance was flat, which resulted in a similar atmosphere on the terraces.
On the biggest day of the season so far, Andy Peaks’ men chose the worst possible time to produce one of their poorest displays in a long time.
They created virtually nothing, their passing was off-key and they even seemed to be lacking that bit of fight that has helped drag them through numerous big games over the past couple of seasons.
Kings Langley, on the other hand, were clearly right up for the big occasion.
They wasted little time in stamping their authority on the clash. They scored early, they closed Diamonds down quickly when they didn’t have the ball and they were unfortunate not to add to their tally.
Their hard-work ethic alone was worthy of the three points and a seventh win in a row shows they are here to stay in the title race.
The tone was set early when the visitors scored what proved to be the winner just four minutes in.
Steve Ward ran unchallenged from the right wing and, while the Diamonds defence stood still, he found Ryan Plowright who could afford a touch before beating Matt Finlay with a low shot.
Kings Langley remained on top for a while after that and Stuart Deaton headed over from a corner.
At the other end, there was little to report. Diamonds never got going and, aside from an Andy Hall free-kick which glanced off a visiting head and a Tom Lorraine overhead-kick which was straight at goalkeeper Xavi Comas, they offered nothing.
One would have hoped the break would be the turning point but Diamonds didn’t get any better and Comas probably couldn’t believe his luck as, apart from holding on to a Shawn Richards free-kick, he had nothing to do in the second half.
Any attempts Diamonds made to make any inroads were quickly snuffed out and the visitors really should have added some gloss to the scoreline.
Finlay produced a good save to deflect Matt Bateman’s shot onto the post and the division’s top scorer, Mitchell Weiss, should have done better when he seized on a mistake from Connor Kennedy but eventually shot over the bar after delaying his strike.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Both teams got exactly what they deserved.
Kings Langley’s celebrations at the end summed up the significance of the result.
For Diamonds, a long week lies ahead. There will, no doubt, be plenty of soul-searching as they bid to pick themselves up from a bad, bad day at the office.
They have 10 games left and they still have a big chance of claiming that title. But those hopes will fade quickly if there are any repeats of this uncharacteristic showing.
Diamonds: Finlay; Gordon (sub Kennedy, 63 mins), Dolman, Ashton, Hipwell; Hall (sub Richards, 62 mins), Quigley, Harris, Hoban; Stevenson (sub Parsons, 85 mins), Lorraine. Subs not used: Vitue, Wilkinson.
Kings Langley: Comas; Folarin, Toomey, Deaton, Adeiyi; Ward (sub Ferrar, 86 mins), Hitchock, Plowright, Bateman (sub Connelly, 73 mins); Hutton, Weiss (sub Swailes, 90 mins). Subs not used: Stevens, Partington.
Referee: Matthew Law.
Goal: Plowright (4 mins, 0-1).
Bookings: Toomey, Folarin, Weiss, Ashton (all fouls).