VERDICT – The dream is over and Diamonds will have regrets

The AFC Rushden & Diamonds players show their disappointment as Barwell celebrate their goal in the 1-0 win at the Dog & Duck last night. Pictures by Alison Bagley

The AFC Rushden & Diamonds players show their disappointment as Barwell celebrate their goal in the 1-0 win at the Dog & Duck last night. Pictures by Alison Bagley

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The dream is over for AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

And in the end, there could be few complaints as Evo-Stik Northern League Premier Division side Barwell deservedly booked a place in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history.

Brady Hickey was their hero as his header on 71 minutes ensured there would be no upset after Diamonds had earned a second chance in such dramatic style at the weekend.

The key with knockout football is to make sure you come off the pitch without any regrets. Unfortunately, Diamonds will probably have a few.

Over 180 minutes, they just didn’t quite do enough. It was fair to say they got away with it when Liam Dolman struck in stoppage-time on Saturday.

But they didn’t take advantage of that second chance. From the off, there was a flatness to their game. They never got into a rhythm and, in truth, they created very little to justify any sort of argument in their favour.

Action from AFC Rushden & Diamonds' 1-0 defeat to Barwell in the FA Cup

Action from AFC Rushden & Diamonds' 1-0 defeat to Barwell in the FA Cup

That’s not to say the effort and endeavour wasn’t there. It was.

And their disappointing display was probably as much down to the job the opponents did rather than anything else.

Barwell started the game brightly but, more importantly, they defended well all evening.

The Diamonds forwards got very little change out of centre-halves Liam Kay and Declan Towers while the wise old head of Richard Lavery proved vital in the middle of the pitch.

Action from AFC Rushden & Diamonds' 1-0 defeat to Barwell in the FA Cup

Action from AFC Rushden & Diamonds' 1-0 defeat to Barwell in the FA Cup

The visitors were the better side in a poor first half, although it was their goalkeeper Liam Castle who was called into action first when he deflected Tom Lorraine’s shot away.

Jamie Towers shot wide at the other end while what proved to be Diamonds’ best chance of the night saw Dolman flick a Tommy Berwick corner just wide of the far post.

There was little to choose again in the second half as both sides struggled to create any significant openings.

Eddy Nisevic should have done better than drag a shot wide for Barwell but their moment did arrive with 19 minutes remaining.

Alex Tomkinson’s inswinging free-kick from the right was pretty much perfect and Hickey simply couldn’t miss as he beat Matt Finlay with a powerful close-range header.

Dolman headed straight at Castle soon after but an all-out assault on the Barwell goal never really materialised. Indeed, the visitors should have wrapped it up when Ant Carney scooped his shot over the bar after good work from substitute Dominic Brennan.

It didn’t matter though. Barwell were worthy winners and go on to take on Vanarama National League side Welling United a week on Saturday.

There will be disappointment and regrets for Diamonds but overall, they can be proud.

An excellent FA Cup run culminated in them playing things out in front of a record crowd of 1,162 at the Dog & Duck.

That, right there, is a sign of how far the club has come.

And now they can focus on the main job at hand, which is to try to earn promotion from the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central.

That challenge resumes at Barton Rovers on Saturday…

Diamonds: Finlay; Wilkinson, Gordon, Dolman, Brown; Herbert (sub Joseph, 67 mins), Quigley, Bunting, Hoban; Berwick, Lorraine. Subs not used: Harris, Vitue, Butt, Ackroyd, Pinder, Gillingwater.

Barwell: Castle; Lower, Kay, D Towers, Nisevic; Tomkinson, Lavery, Hickey, Woodward; J Towers (sub Brennan, 84 mins), Carney. Subs not used: Hartopp, Christie, Gaunt, Punter, Opoku, Wakeling.

Referee: Simon Barrow.

Goal: Hickey (71 mins, 0-1).

Bookings: D Towers, Bunting, Joseph, Woodward, Quigley (all fouls).

Attendance: 1,162.