Pressure is off as Diamonds go for play-off glory

Boss Andy Peaks says the pressure is off his AFC Rushden & Diamonds players in tonight's play-off semi-final at Royston Town
Boss Andy Peaks says the pressure is off his AFC Rushden & Diamonds players in tonight's play-off semi-final at Royston Town

Andy Peaks believes tonight’s (Tuesday) Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central play-off semi-final at Royston Town is the biggest one-off game in AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ short history.

Having finished fifth in their debut season at the level, Diamonds head to Royston, who were the runners-up, chasing a second successive promotion.

The winners of tonight’s clash, which will go to extra-time and penalties if needed, will go on to face Egham Town or St Ives Town on Bank Holiday Monday for the right to join champions Kings Langley in the Premier Division next season.

Diamonds have worked their way up from the United Counties League Division One since forming their senior team in 2012.

While the pressure has always been on in the past, boss Peaks believes that isn’t the case this time around.

And he has urged his players to ensure another opportunity to gain promotion doesn’t “pass them by”.

“There’s been plenty of big games since the club was formed but this is probably the biggest one-off match we have had so far,” the Diamonds manager said.

“There is a lot of excitement around and we are really looking forward to it.

“Normally when you finish fifth, you are able to say it was a decent season and can start looking forward to the next one.

“But by doing that this year, we now have another shot at going up and I want the boys to relish it and enjoy it.

“It’s probably the first time in the last four years where the pressure is off in such a big game.

“I think the pressure is definitely on Royston, I think they’ve set their whole season on going up.

“They will fancy their chances because they have beaten us twice but it’s a no lose situation for us.

“I want the players to go out there and express themselves and not let the moment pass them by.

“Our results against the top clubs have not been good enough but I still believe this group is capable of beating those teams.”

Peaks looks set to have a near full-strength squad available with the biggest question mark being over frontman Elliot Sandy, who missed the last three games of the regular season due to a broken nose.

Nabil Shariff is set to be included again after featuring for the last 10 minutes of Saturday’s 2-0 success over Godalming Town while captain Liam Dolman will also be back in the equation after being an unused substitute.

Peaks added: “We will speak to Elliot and I would expect him to be in and around the squad, which will be a good thing in itself.

“Whether he is fit to play a big part will be something we will have to look at.

“But we didn’t pick up any fresh injuries from the weekend, which is good.

“Nabil played for the last 10 minutes or so and had no reaction and we rested Liam Dolman as a precaution, simply because he is a key player for us.

“I am happy with how the squads looks and the options we have.”