There was a dramatic finish at Hayden Road as AFC Rushden & Diamonds fought back from 3-1 down to snatch a share of the spoils against fellow high-flyers Biggleswade Town.
But what did we learn?
Diamonds’ desire and work-rate is a joy to behold.
Work-rate, desire and a never-say-die attitude has become something of a given for AFC Rushden & Diamonds this season. There has rarely been an occasion where those features could be questioned this season. It’s what Andy Peaks demands more than anything else. And this was, perhaps, the best example yet. I couldn’t have been the only one inside Hayden Road who thought the game was petering out with Biggleswade looking relatively comfortable when they were 3-1 up. But Diamonds didn’t give up. They battled on and they rolled the dice one last time. And when Ben Farrell converted the first of his two penalties, you almost sensed that they would get one more chance. They did and they took it. Diamonds have shown that they have character in abundance and as long as that continues, they will always have a chance of picking up a result against anyone.
When the game gets hot, cool heads are needed and none are cooler than Ben Farrell.
Ben Farrell, like others in the Diamonds squad, took a bit of time to settle at Step 3 but he has made himself one of the key men in the midfield. He produced another energetic display but it was his coolness when it really counted that caught the eye. Taking a penalty isn’t the easiest job in the world, no matter what anyone says. He fired home the first to give his team some hope and then, when another arrived to secure a point deep into stoppage-time, Farrell was up to the task. He held his nerve and sent it straight down the middle and, in truth, there was never any doubt about it.
Albie Hopkins is a player with a big future in front of him.
You never really know what you are going to get when a youngster comes on loan from a Football League club into the hustle and bustle of the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central. Sometimes, it will all be a bit too much with the increased physicality that comes with it. But Albie Hopkins’ loan deal from Oxford United seems to have worked a treat for everyone. He has had an introduction to adult football, which Oxford will be pleased with and he has delivered some impressive performances which obviously benefit Diamonds. He has bags of pace, a trick or two up his sleeve and a wand of a left foot. Even when things weren’t quite happening in this game, Hopkins was the real livewire when Diamonds went on the attack and he scored a lovely goal after he started the move on the edge of his own penalty area. There will be plenty more to come from him both at Hayden Road this season and with his parent club in the future. He will be one to keep an eye on for the future.
Alex Collard looks an impressive addition to the Diamonds’ backline.
Okay, I am a bit late to the party on this one. Plenty of Diamonds fans will have learned just how useful Alex Collard is from his performances in the recent away matches. But this was my first look at the centre-half and he fits this team like a glove. He’s good in the area, good with the ball at his feet and is as brave as they come, which was confirmed when he took a shot full in the face during the first half but simply brushed it off and carried on. True, he was part of the mix-up that led to Biggleswade’s first goal. But that was the only blot on his copybook. With the likes of Liam Dolman and Jack Ashton on the sidelines, there may have been some serious concern about the Diamonds backline. But with Collard in there, it looks to be in safe hands.
Bugs and viruses aside, Diamonds are in good shape for the big derby.
It is all very nicely poised. Diamonds are ready for the big showdown with Kettering Town at Latimer Park on New Year’s Day. I am sure many wouldn’t have thought that Diamonds would be sitting in fourth place at the turn of the year. But that’s exactly where they are and now they will be looking to put one over their neighbours in the first-ever league meeting between the two clubs. It won’t be easy, of course. But Diamonds have shown they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the division and there’s no doubt they will do it again on Tuesday afternoon. The only concern for Andy Peaks will be the virus that a couple of his players have picked up. The likes of Sam Brown and Declan Rogers will be missed if they don’t recover in time for derby day. Nonetheless, Diamonds really couldn’t be in better shape for one of the biggest games of the season.