Puritans hold on to see off Diamonds and make it three wins on the spin

Banbury United made it three wins on the spin as they beat AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 in Saturday's BetVictor Southern League clash.
Banbury United's Luke Fairlamb goes on the attack against AFC Rushden & DiamondsBanbury United's Luke Fairlamb goes on the attack against AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Banbury United's Luke Fairlamb goes on the attack against AFC Rushden & Diamonds

It was a game United needed to win against their Premier Central play-off chasing rivals and they did – but only just in the end – against a Diamonds' outfit which had to play the whole of the second half with only ten men.

United established a two-goal first half advantage through skipper Ricky Johnson and Ravi Shamsi's ninth goal of the season, arguably his best so far. A straight red card for Nabil Shariff at the end of the first half left Diamonds with an uphill struggle but, having seen Tom Lorraine's penalty saved by Jack Harding, Joel Gyasi's late goal set up a tense finish.

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Former Puritans Liam Dolman, Jack Ashton and Shariff - who would only last 45 minutes - lined up for Diamonds who gave a debut to on-loan Coventry City teenage keeper Cian Tyler.

But it was Harding who was the busiest of the two keepers as Diamonds made the better start and created three openings in quick succession. Harding saved bravely at Shariff's feet after Ashton headed on Matthew Slinn's free-kick before tipping over Lorraine's header. Slinn's ensuing corner was also met by Lorraine who could only head wide of the far post.

United's first chance fell to the in-form Luke Fairlamb who took on Dolman and saw his low drive just go wide of the far upright. United began to enjoy more possession and Greg Kaziboni exchanged passes with Charlie Hawtin before getting into the box but failed to seriously trouble Tyler.

In an end-to-end first half, Diamonds went close again when United failed to deal with Sam Brown's long throw-in and Harding denied Shariff from a tight angle.

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United broke the deadlock in the 31st minute when Shamsi's corner was only partially cleared by Diamonds and when the ball came back to him, his pin-point delivery was glanced past Tyler and into the far corner of the net by Johnson.

Diamonds replied with Dolman heading on another Brown throw-in for Shariff who was again thwarted by Harding at his far post.

But United doubled their advantage in the 40th minute and in some style. Shamsi picked up possession in the Diamonds' half and was allowed to advance before unleashing a superb drive from 25 yards which beat the despairing dive of Tyler and nestled in the top corner of the net.

Diamonds' cause wasn't helped by the dismissal of Shariff in added-time following an elbow on Jack Westbrook on the edge of the box.

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Manager Andy Peake introduced Gyasi and, despite their numerical disadvantage, Diamonds began the second half on the front foot as United failed to pick up from where they left off. United were hesitant and Diamonds looked to take advantage, Ashton's header flew wide from a corner as Gyasi began to have an influence on the game.

As the half progressed United gradually regained their grip on proceedings. They began to stretch the Diamonds' defence, well marshalled again by Dolman, but failed to unlock it.

Diamonds should have reduced the arrears in the 80th minute when they were awarded a penalty when Westbrook handled after a scramble in the box. But Lorraine's ensuing spot-kick was superbly saved by Harding who is making something of a habit of doing that this season.

That was the wake-up call United needed and they went close when Fairlamb advanced and set up substitute Amer Awadh who saw his first time drive tipped over by Tyler.

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Diamonds finally pulled one back in the 86th minute when Nathan Hicks' pass was helped on by Lorraine and Gyasi evaded the advancing Harding and curled the ball into an unguarded net from a tight angle.

That set up a tense finish and Hicks fired over following another spell of pressure. Diamonds almost conjured up an equaliser deep into stoppage-time when Harding failed to claim Brown's long throw-in but substitute Lee Henderson cleared off the line.

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