MIDWEEK SPORT '“ Brilliant Diamonds fight back for fine win but Poppies are beaten at Merthyr
Ten-man AFC Rushden & Diamonds produced a stunning late fightback as they claimed a fine 2-1 success at Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South high-flyers Spalding United.
Diamonds looked to be heading for defeat after Nathan Whitehead had given the hosts a half-time lead before Rory Winters was sent off with just 16 minutes remaining.
But that sparked the comeback and captain Richard Bunting levelled things up before Jack Ashton, like he did against Coalville Town in the FA Trophy at the weekend, headed home the winner with six minutes remaining.
The victory means Diamonds are now unbeaten in nine league matches as they continue their charge up the table.
Diamonds handed a debut to goalkeeper Ben Heath who replaced the injured Matt Finlay while Rory Winters came back in with Taylor Orosz dropping to the bench.
They were also forced to make a late change to their starting line-up when Sam Brown suffered an injury in the warm-up and was replaced at left-back by Jason Lee.
Nic Evangelinos almost gave Diamonds a perfect start when he seized on a mistake from Jordan Lemon but dinked the ball over the bar.
Heath was tested for the first time by Jack Wightwick but Diamonds went close at the other end when Liam Dolman’s free-kick was brilliantly clawed away by Michael Duggan, who also denied the centre-half from the corner that followed.
But Spalding increased the pressure before the break and, after Bunting had cleared an effort of the line and Heath had saved from Bradley Wells, the hosts took the lead on 43 minutes.
It came from a corner after a Wells shot had been deflected wide. Wightwick delivered the set-piece and Whitehead headed home.
Wells shot over early in the second half and then Wightwick clipped the bar with a curling effort before Heath saved brilliantly from the same player.
Diamonds were really up against it when Winters saw red for a second bookable offence but that only inspired the stunning fightback once Heath had saved brilliantly again from Whitehead.
Diamonds levelled with 12 minutes to go when Bunting drove the ball home from 20 yards after substitute Jake Newman had seen a shot saved.
They had the ball in the net soon after, although Evangelinos was rightly flagged offside.
However, the winner arrived on 84 minutes when Ashton headed home from close-range after a corner was turned back into the area.
Heath had to make another stunning save before the end but Diamonds saw things out to claim an impressive victory.
Kettering Town’s inconsistent form continued as they suffered a seventh Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division defeat of the season as they went down 2-0 at high-flying Merthyr Town.
The Poppies were without Dom Langdon due to work commitments while Lewis Hornby also missed out but they had an otherwise strong squad available for the long trip.
Aaron O’Connor and Matthew Barnes-Homer both started on the bench with Rene Howe, Liam Bateman, Wilson Carvalho and James Haran restored to the starting line-up following the 5-1 win over Market Drayton Town in the FA Trophy at the weekend.
The Poppies made a positive start and Liam Canavan went close to opening the scoring from a corner.
But it was the hosts who went in front in the opening period when Ian Traylor was given too much time in the penalty area and he turned and fired home a good strike.
Dean Snedker was forced into two fine saves during the second half but Merthyr finally added a second late on when they seized on a defensive error from Brett Solkhon to complete the scoring and maintain their unbeaten home record.