Nabil Shariff’s 11-minute hat-trick paved the way for AFC Rushden & Diamonds to pick up their first win of the season - but they were made to sweat by Sileby Rangers before making it through to the first qualifying round of the FA Cup.
Andy Peaks’ side looked to be cruising through their preliminary round tie at the Dog & Duck when Liam Dolman’s wind-assisted cross from the right dropped into the far corner to make it 4-1 with 55 minutes on the clock.
But the United Counties League Premier Division side battled their way back into the contest with two goals in the space of five minutes.
And they had Diamonds hanging on for dear life by the end but the hosts did see it out for a 4-3 victory as they booked themselves a home tie with AFC Hornchurch in the next stage.
Much like the midweek league defeat to Chasetown, Diamonds’ defending left a lot to be desired at times and Peaks will, no doubt, be looking at that particular area of the pitch ahead of the bank holiday weekend.
But Diamonds’ problems weren’t all their own doing. A lot of credit must go to Sileby for the way they went about their business.
They deservedly took the lead and then looked comfortable before Diamonds finally stormed into the contest.
But even when the game looked over, the visitors didn’t give up. They may not have won, but they certainly played a big part in a decent cup tie.
For Diamonds, the job was eventually done. They are through to the next round and they have that first win on the board.
But the biggest positive for them was goal hero Shariff.
He coolly brought them level from the penalty spot and then struck a sensational second before adding a third for good measure.
It that is a sign of things to come from the frontman, then Diamonds could be on to a winner.
However, their defensive frailties were all-too obvious and they were found out after nine minutes when Brian Farrell flicked Lewis Burgess’ bullet long throw into the far corner to give the visitors a shock lead.
Sileby played with a lot of confidence in the first half-hour and Farrell shot over after a good turn before Dolman almost put through his own net while Matt Finlay had to palm away Mark Forbes’ wind-assisted corner.
But the game changed on the half-hour mark when Leon Simpson hauled down Robbie Parsons in the area.
It was a challenge he probably didn’t need to make and Shariff made Sileby pay as he sent goalkeeper Kristopher Bartle the wrong way from the spot.
With their tails up, Diamonds stormed ahead before the break. Shariff’s second was a peach as his wonderful curling shot found the net with the aid of the post after Parsons and Nic Evangelinos had combined to create the chance.
Shariff’s treble was completed when he latched on to a quick throw and beat Bartle with a composed finish.
There was a scare on the stroke of half-time when Paul Caswell was out of luck as his strike smacked off the face of the crossbar.
But the game should have been up for Sileby when Dolman’s cross bamboozled Bartle after the big centre-half somehow found himself out on the right wing.
Within 12 minutes of that goal though, Sileby were right back in it.
The Diamonds defence were fast asleep when substitute Stuart MacMichael rose unchallenged to head home a Forbes corner.
And it was game on when brilliant work from David Halliday on the right saw him dart into the box and then roll the ball across the box for Farrell to bundle home.
Sileby went so close to an equaliser with 12 minutes to go when Luke Stevens’ rasping drive left Finlay rooted to the spot but it was just a fraction wide of the target.
Jack Ashton burst clear on a Diamonds counter-attack and found himself with just Bartle to beat but dragged his shot wide.
That would have finished it. But, instead, the hosts were forced to hold on as both Dolman and Ashton put their bodies on the line to block efforts from Halliday.
It certainly wasn’t convincing from Diamonds and there is work to do ahead of the double-header over next weekend.
But they are up and running for the new season, they’re through and that, ultimately in knockout football, is all that matters.
Diamonds: Finlay; Bradshaw, Dolman, Ashton, Brown; Parsons (sub McNulty, 88 mins), Harris, Bunting (sub Leslie, 73 mins), Evangelinos; Lorraine, Shariff. Subs not used: Oulton, Haynes, Jackson, Orosz, Harvey.
Sileby: Bartle; Stevens (sub Bettles, 85 mins), Simpson, Caswell, Burgess; Forbes, Johnston (sub Okanu, 64 mins); Merdy (sub MacMichael, h-t), Halliday, Farrell; Byrne. Subs not used: Jaward, Uzoma, Sandy, Russell.
Referee: Brian O’Sullivan.
Goals: Farrell (9 mins, 0-1), Shariff pen (30 mins, 1-1), Shariff (29 mins, 2-1), Shariff (41 mins, 3-1), Dolman (55 mins, 4-1), MacMichael (62 mins, 4-2), Farrell (67 mins, 4-3).
Bookings: Halliday, Okanu (both fouls), Johnston, Lorraine (both unsporting behaviour).