AFC Rushden & Diamonds produced another impressive display at Hayden Road as they boosted their play-off hopes.
But what did we learn?
Any doubts have now been cast aside, Diamonds are genuine play-off contenders.
If the season ended now, everyone at Hayden Road could be highly satisfied. Diamonds have moved up to Step 3 and made a huge impact. But the season isn’t over, far from it. Having beaten King’s Lynn Town recently, Andy Peaks’ team did it again as they saw off another of the teams currently above them in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central. Stratford have been on an incredible run to get themselves up to third in the table but they became the latest team to suffer at Hayden Road. There were still some nagging doubts about whether Diamonds could push on for a top-five finish but those have been dispelled now. Peaks’ side are right in the thick of things and they thoroughly deserve to be. There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t go on to give themselves an extended season.
Managers take the flack for every setback, so let’s give credit where it’s due.
Whenever any team across the country loses a game, the finger is always pointed at the manager. That’s a football manager’s life. But, on the other side of the coin, it’s important to recognise when the boss and his staff have had a direct impact in changing the course of a game. Diamonds really struggled to impose any sort of attacking threat in the first half of this one with Stratford looking the more likely to break the deadlock. However, at half-time, Andy Peaks and his coaching team tweaked things slightly with Ben Diamond being moved into a more central role in behind striker Tom Lorraine. And it changed the game. Diamonds looked a lot more threatening with Diamond getting on the ball and the hosts went on to produce an excellent second-half display. By the end, there could be no arguments. The hosts were worthy winners and Peaks deserves the credit for making the tactical change to turn the game in his side’s favour.
Liam Dolman - a captain, a leader and finally a goalscorer again.
When someone said to me after the game that the opening goal was Liam Dolman’s first one in the league this season, I had to double check it. Indeed it was. The Diamonds skipper has always chipped in with goals during his time with the club but this season has been blighted by some frustrating time on the sidelines due to injury. However, he is back and as influential as ever. First and foremost, he did his main job of turning in a fine defensive display to preserve another clean sheet. And, with an hour on the clock, he was there to fire home after being teed up by Tom Lorraine. In big games and at key moments, you need your top players to step up. And, not for the first time in his Diamonds career, Dolman did just that.
Sam Johnson did his chances of a big run in the team no harm whatsoever.
Patience is a virtue. Sam Johnson has had to wait for the opportunities for starts since joining Diamonds but he certainly his chances of getting more of those after being included in this one. Despite having a quiet first half, the forward came to life as Diamonds moved through the gears in the second period. And his big moment arrived with 20 minutes to go. With the Stratford defence caught square, Johnson raced clear and produced an excellent first-time finish with his effort going in off the inside of the post. It was a fine goal, it was a crucial goal and, with a good run in the side, there could well more a lot more to come from him.
It’s now a race to the line and Diamonds are one of the form teams.
Diamonds really couldn’t be in better nick for the run-in. They are unbeaten in seven matches, they have suffered just one defeat in their last 15 outings in the league and only one team has gone away from Hayden Road with a victory this season. Everything is in place for the final push. There are plenty of big games to come, the majority of those being on home soil. It’s simply now a case of ticking off the matches and keeping this good form going for as long as possible. Andy Peaks is as realistic as they come. He knows there will be bumps in the road but, as his team have proven time and again, when there is a setback they usually respond in the appropriate manner. Halesowen Town provide the next test as Diamonds hit the road this weekend. It’s crucial they keep up the momentum and grasp the opportunity that is now in front of them.