AFC Rushden & Diamonds: Jon Dunham's 2021/22 season review

As the dust begins to settle, AFC Rushden & Diamonds can reflect on a season of progress.

Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 12:40 pm

Admittedly, that may still be hard for some to do considering the way their Southern League Premier Central campaign ended.

Needing just a point on the final day to secure a play-off place, Diamonds fell at the last hurdle as they lost to Nuneaton Borough with Alvechurch overtaking them at the death to leave them in sixth place.

But the way Diamonds got themselves into that position represents the progress we have already referred to.

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Andy Burgess will lead AFC Rushden & Diamonds into next season after they just missed out on a play-off place this time around. Pictures courtesy of Hawkins Images

It really was a rollercoaster of a season.

With Andy Peaks at the helm, it was a tough start with just three points to show from the first four games of the season.

Indeed, by the time they played Barwell at Hayden Road on October 19, things were looking a bit dodgy if truth be told.

They lost that game 1-0 to Barwell in front of just 240 supporters to leave them in 17th place with Peaks coming under increasing pressure.

Captain Alex Collard was one of the standout performers for Diamonds

But, from there, something seismic changed.

They lost just three of their next 17 league matches and won 12 of them to propel them towards the play-off places.

Within that run was one of the most dramatic wins of any season when, after trailing 2-0 after 84 minutes at Hednesford Town, they scored three goals in the last six minutes to claim a 3-2 success.

From the middle of October until the middle of February, Diamonds were pretty much unstoppable.

And when two Ty Deacon goals helped them come from a goal down to win 2-1 at Barwell on February 12, they moved into the top five for the first time.

But then, things changed.

That stunning run of form clearly didn’t go unnoticed and league rivals Tamworth came calling for manager Peaks who decided to move on after an incredible few years at Diamonds as he led them into Step 3 football.

By this time, the influential Ravi Shamsi’s season had been ended by injury and then the impressive Deacon, who hit 10 goals in all competitions after arriving from Aylesbury United, was lured to Kettering Town.

There was a fear that, no matter who the next manager was, they would already be up against it.

That next manager would turn out to be a familiar face with Rushden & Diamonds legend Andy Burgess initially being placed in interim charge before his position was made more permanent towards the end of the season.

And, initially, the big changes didn’t seem to affect anything as Burgess enjoyed wins in his first two matches, including another last-gasp success at Lowestoft Town.

A lot of credit for that period must go to the big characters and senior players in the dressing-room, the likes of captain Alex Collard and Liam Dolman who helped hold things together after Peaks’ shock departure.

But the loss of Collard to a broken hand in the 3-1 win at Redditch United towards the end of March was a hammer blow.

This was no one-man team, but Collard had been near-faultless for the most part while contributing key goals along the way. His influence was huge.

Even with things out of their control going against them, Diamonds looked to be all-but there as far as a top-five finish was concerned when they beat Bromsgrove Sporting at home.

But it all fell apart in the final two matches as they went down 1-0 at St Ives Town on Easter Monday before falling victim to that final-day drama.

A sixth-placed finish is certainly something not to be sniffed at, especially after the position Diamonds found themselves in after a couple of months of the season.

The way it ended hurt, no question.

But in Burgess they have a manager keen to stamp his own mark over the summer as he prepares for a first full campaign at the helm.

It will be a new era for the club with Burgess already conceding there will be changes.

But there will be plenty for him to build on once August rolls around.

Jon Dunham’s totally unofficial AFC Rushden & Diamonds player of the year - Alex Collard.

There were some excellent contenders when it came to deciding Diamonds’ best player of the season.

The supporters went for goalkeeper Dean Snedker and that was hard to argue with as he, without doubt, earned Diamonds more points than he lost.

There was also young Patrick Casey who was outstanding for the most part at right-back.

But Alex Collard was, for me, the standout performer.

Even in the toughest of times, he led by example. He defended superbly and was a constant threat from set-pieces at the other end.

His interview with me in the aftermath of Andy Peaks’ shock departure was mature and positive as he tried to do his bit to help hold things together.

His season was cruelly ended by a broken hand. Would things have been different if that hadn’t happened? We’ll never know.

But he can be very pleased with his contribution and keeping him at the club will surely be one of Andy Burgess’ priorities.