AFC Rushden & Diamonds suffered their first home defeat of the season as Rushall Olympic were triumphant at Hayden Road.
But what did we learn?
If you allow your levels to drop, you will be punished
I think this is something everyone knew already but this game was further evidence of it. Diamonds have been really good over the last few weeks, they’ve played with an intensity and they were duly rewarded with a good run of results. But, for whatever reason, they were a step off the pace this time. There wasn’t the usual zip to their play and they struggled to find any sort of response after Rushall had scored the second goal. Diamonds allowed their standards to drop and Rushall, just like any other team, weren’t prepared to let them off the hook.
The key players delivered for Rushall
When you win any game away from home, your big players will have usually played a part. Rushall looked a decent side, they were big, strong, powerful and well organised. But their success seemed to be built around two players familiar to these parts. Former Kettering Town defender Orrin Pendley was outstanding at the back and scored a bullet header to open the scoring. And that came from a free-kick delivered by ex-Corby Town man Ashley Sammons. He went on to score the second goal to cap a fine performance in which he pulled the strings and made things happen. As a collective unit, Rushall were better than Diamonds on this occasion. And their big players delivered the key moments to secure the result.
Jack Ashton’s return was one of the few positives
There weren’t many positives for Diamonds but it was great to see Jack Ashton back and starting the game after a knee problem. Andy Peaks’ hand was forced somewhat by the absence of Liam Dolman (see more on that below) but Ashton was and is a worthy replacement. He showed his usual tenacity at times and was desperately unlucky not to open the scoring when his header from a corner cannoned off the post in the early stages. Okay, the game ended in defeat but Ashton’s return is a good thing for the weeks and months ahead.
You can’t put a price on leadership
We all know what Liam Dolman offers from the playing side. He’s big, strong, reads the game better than anyone and his distribution from the back is, in general, second to none. Diamonds missed him, any team will miss their key player. We know the reasons why he wasn’t available but the one thing Diamonds missed more than anything was that extra bit of leadership. Despite playing at centre-half, Dolman does lead from the very front of this team. He’s the heartbeat of it and when he isn’t there, Diamonds don’t look the same side. When they went 2-0 down, there was a lack of drive as they tried to come back into the game. You have to give credit to Rushall for that for the way they managed the game (without resorting to pathetic time-wasting it has to be said) but Dolman would have rallied the troops at that stage. That leadership, as well as his ability, was sorely missed.
Diamonds’ sights are already set on bouncing back
There haven’t been many setbacks for Diamonds over the last few years and this season for that matter. Taking absolutely everything into account, their move up to Step 3 has gone very well. They have more than matched every team they have encountered, they are sitting comfortably in mid-table and they have now only been beaten once at home. For any realistic supporter, that has to go down as a pleasing start. Andy Peaks’ teams tend to bounce back well when they do have setbacks and they must do the same again. They will be strong for Tuesday’s NFA Hillier Senior Cup quarter-final against ON Chenecks and then it will be on to Witton Albion in the FA Trophy on Saturday. Diamonds sit in a comfortable position in the league so further progression in a couple of knockout competitions will surely be most welcome as well.