REVIEW OF THE SEASON: Diamonds take that next step forward

It was a campaign to remember for the promotion-winning AFC Rushden & Diamonds squad
It was a campaign to remember for the promotion-winning AFC Rushden & Diamonds squad

It was a case of third time lucky for Andy Peaks and AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

Having suffered play-off heartbreak in their previous two campaigns at Step Four, this season always felt like it had to be ‘the one’.
And so it proved.
With the carrot of an extra automatic promotion place due to this summer’s restructure in the non-League system being dangled in front of them, Diamonds were highly-fancied to go close in the Evo-Stik South League East.
And, in the end, they delivered exactly what most had expected.
The season started in positive fashion with the summer move to Rushden & Higham United’s Hayden Road going more smoothly than expected, so much so that the campaign began at Diamonds’ new home thanks to the stirling efforts of a band of volunteers who worked overtime to help bring it up to the appropriate standard.
The start was steady, if not spectacular with the FA Cup once again providing a couple of highlights as Diamonds held Vanarama National League North side Alfreton Town to 3-3 draw at the Impact Arena before losing out 3-1 in the replay at Hayden Road.
But it was at the end of October that the league season clicked into gear.
They were in fifth spot after thrashing Barton Rovers 5-0 on October 24 and, a month later, they were on top of the pile following a 2-0 home success over Cambridge City.
That was all part of what turned out to be part of a four-month and 19-game unbeaten run in the league, which continued until they lost 2-1 at Egham Town towards the end of February.
But by then, the damage had been done.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few hitches and a run that delivered just two wins in eight matches as the season turned into April ensured there were a few nerves in the air.
But no-one should have worried.
Diamonds regrouped and finished the season with five successive wins.
Promotion was confirmed after the 7-1 demolition of Aylesbury FC before a crowd of 978 descended on Hayden Road on the final day to watch a 1-0 success over Ashford Town (Middx), although it wasn’t quite enough to nick the title as Beaconsfield Town finished in top spot.
Nonetheless, the main aim for the season had been achieved and done in some style.
The core of the squad Peaks put together ahead of the season remained intact with the manager never losing faith in their ability to achieve the target he set for them.
And Peaks must also take credit for making key signings along the way to ensure his team always stayed ahead of the game.
Life at Step Three now awaits Diamonds and their followers who can now reflect on three promotions in the space of just six seasons since the club was formed.
And their performances against a number of Step Three clubs in cup competitions during the campaign would already suggest, even at this very early stage, that they should be more than equipped to compete with the best at the next level...