AFC Rushden & Diamonds enjoyed a comfortable victory over their United Counties League opponents in the preliminary round replay at Hayden Road.
But what did we learn?
Job was done and done professionally.
There’s no such thing as a ‘gimme’ in football. In general, every teams that wins has to work hard for it. Diamonds were obviously favourites to win this replay, given the two-league gap between the two clubs. But once the whistle goes, it’s all about application. From the first whistle, Andy Peaks’ men looked to be in control and then, after Deeping enjoyed a decent finish to the opening half, Diamonds move through the gears after the break to get run out comfortable winners. This could have been a banana skin but a professional performance ensured Diamonds didn’t slip on it.
Deeping held their own, they deserve some credit.
We know a thing or two about FA Cup upsets round this way so anyone who went to Hayden Road for this replay would have been wise not to rule anything out. And while they were eventually well beaten, you have to give a lot of credit to the way Deeping Rangers went about their business. They had to work extremely hard without the ball for long periods and they kept themselves firmly in the game, despite falling behind inside the first 20 minutes. They played extremely well for the final 15 minutes of the first half and were perhaps a touch unfortunate not to get back on level terms. In the end, Diamonds had a bit too much for them. But the United Counties League Premier Division side can and should hold their highs high.
Jack Westbrook is a midfield lynchpin.
I’m giving myself a bit more of an opportunity to focus more closely on the games I am actually attending this season, rather than having my head buried into my phone to see how the other teams are getting on while trying to watch the action. And doing that gives you the chance to take a bit more notice of those who don’t always catch the eye. Jack Westbrook played a pivotal role in the promotion run-in last season, anchoring the midfield in the most unassuming of manners. And he’s doing it again. He turned in an excellent display on this occasion, doing his usual task of breaking up the play. But he also used and passed the ball extremely well, which is something that there was room for improvement on. His signing really boosted Diamonds last season and if he carries on like this, he’ll be a vital player once again.
Callum Westwood answered some of his critics.
I’ve got a lot of time for Callum Westwood. His tough-tackling nature and enthusiasm to attack with pace from right-back make him a very watchable player. He isn’t without his faults. He probably picks up too many yellow cards and there are times when he could be defensively more sound. He is one of those players who almost splits opinion and he has certainly taken his fair share of stick from Diamonds fans at times. The only way to silence the critics, of course, is to deliver on the pitch. Westwood was a livewire throughout this cup tie and capped a good individual display with an excellent goal as his 30-yard strike skidded off the surface and found the bottom corner. I’d urge the Diamonds fans to stick with him because I am sure boss Andy Peaks will.
Diamonds now have the chance to gain some revenge.
They’ll tell you it’s not about revenge but there won’t be one Diamonds player who was with the club last season who won’t want to put one over Hayes & Yeading United in the first qualifying round on Saturday. It’s an extremely tough draw at this stage of the competition. Hayes pushed Diamonds and Beaconsfield Town hard in the race for automatic promotion in the last campaign and their impressive start in their new surroundings of the Bostik League South Central Division suggests they have hopes of going one better this time. Hayes were the only side to do the double over Diamonds in the league last season as they won 1-0 on both occasions. The main aim for Saturday, of course, is to get through to the second qualifying round. But Diamonds would love nothing more than do it by beating one of the few teams that got a measure of them in the last campaign.