The play-off push is well and truly on for AFC Rushden & Diamonds in the second half of their Southern League Premier Central season after they made an immediate return to winning ways with a 2-0 success over Needham Market.
Andy Peaks had been looking for an immediate response after Saturday’s defeat at runaway leaders Banbury United and his players duly delivered against a Needham side who were on a high after a penalty shoot-out success at Yeovil Town in the FA Trophy.
There was nothing too spectacular about it.
A muddy and bobbly Hayden Road pitch made it difficult for both teams and Needham, a side clearly drilled to pass the ball, deserve credit for sticking to their principles throughout as they knocked the ball around pretty well all evening.
But, with the likes of captain Alex Collard and Liam Dolman marshalling a solid Diamonds defence, the visitors rarely troubled goalkeeper Snedker who had one of his quieter nights.
Diamonds, on the other hand, created their key moments from set-pieces.
They took the lead after 11 minutes. A corner was met by the head of Ben Diamond, who is revelling in a new role in the middle of midfield. Dolman kept the attack alive and played in the lively AJ George on the left of the penalty area and his pinpoint cross was met by the head of Collard who gave Marcus Garnham no chance from close-range.
Snedker was forced into his only real save of the evening when Ben Fowkes took aim from 20 yards with a low drive, which the goalkeeper pushed away.
And it was Diamonds who gave themselves a cushion nine minutes into the second half.
Once again, a set-piece broke down but was recycled when the ball was swept out to Collard who had stayed up on the right-hand side.
He delivered a superb first-time cross which was exquisitely converted on the volley by the impressive Ty Deacon with the ball flashing past Garnham before had the chance to move.
It gave Diamonds a tighter grip on proceedings and they never really looked in too much trouble after it.
There was a 10-minute period where Needham came on strong and substitute Hans Mpongo twice found himself in space at the far post but was unable to get a proper connection on the ball.
And, as the game went on, Diamonds looked the more likely to nick another with Nathan Tshikuna going close with a long-range strike which was just wide of the post.
This wasn’t a vintage display but there was plenty of hard work and endeavour as Diamonds maintained their impressive overall form.
The win moved them back to within five points of fifth-placed Alvechurch ahead of a clash between the two sides in Worcestershire on Saturday.
Win that and Diamonds will find themselves in a strong position in their pursuit of a memorable second half of the campaign…
Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, A Collard, Dolman, Warburton, Diamond, Bell-Toxtle, Shamsi (sub Furlong, 71 mins), Tshikuna (sub Slinn, 85 mins), George, Deacon (sub Jones, 77 mins). Subs not used: Hughes, Akubuine.
Needham Market: Garnham, Dye, Morphew, Cullum, Sayer, Marshall-Miranda, N Collard (sub Sturgess, 71 mins), Page (sub Maycock, 60 mins), Hammond, Fowkes (sub Mpongo, 60 mins), Ingram. Subs not used: Northwood, Clark.
Referee: Alan Cox.
Goals: A Collard (11 mins, 1-0), Deacon (54 mins, 2-0).
Bookings: Cullum, Maycock (both fouls).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Alex Collard - The captain had a good night. He opened the scoring with a header, he set up the second goal with a first-time cross and he played a crucial role in helping to keep a clean sheet. It doesn’t get much better than that for a centre-half!