VERDICT – Dolman and Diamonds deliver a crucial success

Liam Dolman heads home AFC Rushden & Diamonds' winner as they beat Newcastle Town 1-0 at the Dog & Duck. Pictures by Alison Bagley
Liam Dolman heads home AFC Rushden & Diamonds' winner as they beat Newcastle Town 1-0 at the Dog & Duck. Pictures by Alison Bagley
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When they needed it the most, AFC Rushden & Diamonds picked up a priceless win to ensure they remain on course to earn an Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South play-off place.

To say it was all on the line at the Dog & Duck may be stretching it a bit far but, as Newcastle Town will now tell you, the difference between winning and losing on a day like this was even bigger than normal.

Liam Dolman celebrates after scoring what proved to be the winner for Diamonds

Liam Dolman celebrates after scoring what proved to be the winner for Diamonds

While Diamonds’ 1-0 win leaves Newcastle’s hopes of a top-five finish in tatters, it sent Andy Peaks’ team back into the play-off places with just two games to go.

Two more wins and the first part of the job will be done as Diamonds bid to go one better than last season’s heartbreaking final defeat to St Ives in the Southern League Division One Central.

And when big games arrive, you need your big players to stand up and two key men certainly delivered for Diamonds in the spring sunshine.

There were plenty of decent displays and, certainly after a dominant second-half display, there could be few arguments that Peaks’ team were well worth all three points.

Ben Farrell, Liam Dolman and Nabil Shariff celebrate after the final whistle at the Dog & Duck

Ben Farrell, Liam Dolman and Nabil Shariff celebrate after the final whistle at the Dog & Duck

But they owed a lot to goalkeeper Matt Finlay and the talismanic Liam Dolman, who scored the crucial goal on 64 minutes.

After a bright start that had seen Ben Farrell unable to get a good enough connection on Nabil Shariff’s cross to the far post, it was Newcastle who created the better chances.

Finlay pushed away a Matt Baker shot and then made an even better save as he flew to his right to turn Lee Cropper’s curling effort round the post.

Dolman saw a header tipped over by Harry Pickering at the other end but Newcastle were presented with a golden opportunity to break the deadlock on 34 minutes when Daniel Cocks was barged over by Callum Westwood in the area.

A clear penalty if ever there was one and while a partisan crowd held their collective breath, Cocks’ poor spot-kick was well saved by Finlay down to his left.

The visitors went close again before the break when Brad Harris cleared Lee Cropper’s shot off the line after Baker had beaten Finlay to the punch.

Diamonds were, perhaps, a bit fortunate to be on level terms at half-time but they came out with renewed purpose in the second period.

Shariff and Farrell both forced Pickering into action while Dolman curled a free-kick just over before the deadlock was broken.

Ross Oulton, on for the injured Richard Bunting, floated in a corner from the right and Dolman rose to head into the far top corner.

Shariff should have made it two when he scooped over from close-range under pressure from a defender after he skipped past Pickering and the visiting goalkeeper made another decent stop from Oulton’s 20-yard strike.

But, almost inevitably, as time ticked on Newcastle began to see a bit more of the ball.

And it took one more superb stop from Finlay to secure the points as he did brilliantly to keep out substitute Jordan Cole’s late free-kick.

Job done, a big game won and Diamonds are now in a good position to go on and achieve their aim at the start of the season.

Their form of late, to be brutally honest, hasn’t been great but when they really needed it, they turned in a good display to edge ever-closer to a top-five finish.

Two more wins will seal it, on to Stamford then...

Diamonds: Finlay; Westwood, Harris, Dolman, Brown; Farrell, Bunting (sub Oulton, 42 mins), Quigley, Richards (sub Orosz, 74 mins); Bowen (sub Lorraine, 61 mins), Shariff. Subs not used: McNulty, Heath.

Newcastle: Pickering; Sanders, Smith (sub Skellern, 77 mins), J Askey, Green (sub Bridge, 66 mins); Urwin (sub Cole, 66 mins), L Askey, Blake, Cocks; Baker, Cropper. Subs not used: Bradbury, Parton.

Referee: Matthew Smith.

Goal: Dolman (64 mins, 1-0).

Bookings: Cole, Blake (both fouls), Oulton (time-wasting).

Attendance: 564.