AFC Rushden & Diamonds came to within seconds of ending Moneyfields’ unbeaten start in the Evo-Stik South League East as the leaders snatched a dramatic late equaliser in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Hayden Road.
Trailing at the break, Diamonds stormed back in the second half with Liam Dolman’s penalty bringing them level before new signing Ben Diamond, on as a substitute, headed them in front with eight minutes remaining.
But Stephen Hutchings glanced home a stoppage-time leveller for the table-toppers, who had also been reduced to 10 men after Diamond’s goal.
Andy Peaks handed Ryan Robbins a debut alongside Tom Lorraine in the Diamonds frontline as he replaced the now departed Nabil Shariff while fellow new signings Adam North and Diamond were named on the bench.
Diamonds were still without Sam Brown while Callum Westwood was serving a one-match suspension.
The big game feel certainly carried over into the action with neither team holding back with their challenges.
But it was the leaders who drew first blood when, after Tom Lorraine had been penalised for a push just outside the area, Brett Poate stepped up to give Ben Heath no chance with a superb left-footed free-kick into the top corner.
Diamonds almost responded immediately but Ben Farrell was out of luck as his 30-yard blockbuster smacked off the underside of the crossbar before the visitors cleared.
It took a good block from Blaize Punter to deny Gary Austin at the other end and, after Robbins had forced Mowthorpe into a routine save, the visitors went close to a second when Lewis Fennemore saw his head crash off the bar.
Peaks changed his personnel and formation at the break with Claudiu Hoban and Fernando Bell-Toxtle being introduced.
And it paid off as Robbins, who had earlier gone down after no contact in the box, did win a penalty when he was bundled over in the area.
Dolman stepped up and made no mistake as he sent Stephen Mowthorpe the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Diamonds looked a much bigger threat after the equaliser and Robbins was booked for diving after going down under another challenge before Richard Bunting’s corner struck the bar before the ball was scrambled clear.
Heath had to be quick off his line to deny Hutchings but it was Diamonds who looked like they had won it with eight minutes to go.
Luke Fairlamb sent in a free-kick from the right and Diamond rose highest to nod into the far corner.
That position was strengthened soon after when Poate was sent-off for bringing down Lorraine when he was the last man. And the frontman should have made the game safe when the resulting free-kick was deflected into his path but Mowthorpe produced a decent save.
It would prove to be a defining moment. As the game moved into the third minute of stoppage-time, Moneyfields won a free-kick on the right.
It was swung in and Hutchings glanced it home to ensure the leaders’ unbeaten record remained intact.
It was a bitter pill for Diamonds to swallow but they’ll be more angry with themselves than anyone for not defending that final set-piece well enough.
Overall, a draw was probably a fair outcome. But you get the feeling that these two teams will have plenty of say in what continues to happen at the top end of the table as the season rumbles on.
Diamonds: Heath; Gilchrist, Punter, Dolman, B Ford (sub Bell-Toxtle, h-t); Gyasi (sub Hoban, h-t), Bunting, Farrell, Fairlamb; Lorraine, Robbins (sub Diamond, 76 mins). Subs not used: North, Curtis.
Moneyfields: Mowthorpe; Martin, Poate, Pearce, J Ford; Giddings, Fennemore, Ridge, Briggs; Hutchings (sub Raine, 90 mins), Austin (sub Smith, 71 mins). Subs not used: Robinson, Da Costa, Bedford.
Referee: Scott Tallis.
Goals: Poate (7 mins, 0-1), Dolman pen (53 mins, 1-1), Diamond (82 mins, 2-1), Hutchings (90 mins, 2-2).
Bookings: Ford, Fennemore, Bunting, Hoban (all fouls), Robbins (diving).
Sending-off: Poate (professional foul).