Review of the season - AFC Rushden & Diamonds
AFC Rushden & Diamonds are a club who should be thoroughly satisfied after their first season in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central.
Having gained promotion from Step 4 last year, the main aim for Andy Peaks and his players was to consolidate at the higher level.
In the end, Diamonds exceeded expectations as they secured a top-10 finish and even had a good flirt with the play-off positions.
It’s common knowledge that Peaks didn’t have a big budget available to him.
But, as ever, he used what he had to put together a group of players he could trust to get the job done.
The vast majority of the squad that gained promotion remained in place while some sensible additions were made in the form of experienced Step 3 players Nathan Hicks and Jack Bowen while the signing of right-back Zack Reynolds proved to be one of the best Peaks has made.
The one thing you can guarantee from his team is that they will work hard and that was a common theme throughout the campaign.
If they got beaten, they made sure the opposition had to work hard for it and there were times when they had to dig deep for some key results.
The start couldn’t have been better as they thumped Redditch United 5-2 on the opening day of the campaign but it was their form between November and March that really helped them make their mark at the new level.
There had been signs of what was to come when they thrashed Needham Market 5-1 on their own ground in October.
But it was the 2-1 home success over Hitchin Town on November 13 that sparked an excellent run in which Diamonds lost just two games in 21 in the league.
And when they picked up impressive home wins over King’s Lynn Town and Stratford Town there was a genuine belief that a top-five finish was possible.
In the end, however, Diamonds seemed to run out of gas and they picked up just one win in their final 10 matches to slip out of contention.
There was no disgrace in that. As far as this season was concerned, the main box had been ticked.
Diamonds worked their socks off, they played some decent stuff and there was never any danger of them being drawn into trouble at the wrong end of the table.
The task for Peaks now, of course, is to try to find a way to push it on once again. Given his track record, you wouldn’t bet against him doing just that.
Jon Dunham’s unofficial player-of-the-season: Alex Collard.
It’s not very often I’ll name someone as my player-of-the-season when they didn’t arrive at the club until the end of November – but we can always make an exception.
There were some real contenders for this.
The ever-reliable Tom Lorraine answered any questions of whether he would be able to make the step up by firing in 20 goals in all competitions.
And the likes of right-back Zack Reynolds and midfielder Nathan Hicks, who were summer recruits, turned in consistent displays throughout the majority of the campaign.
But it was another new boy, who really caught the eye.
It’s fair to say that plenty of us hadn’t heard of Alex Collard until Andy Peaks signed him with captain Liam Dolman sidelined at the time.
The central defender made an immediate impression and, by the end of the campaign, he would have been one of the first names on the team sheet.
Strong in the air, tough in the challenge and also able to play a bit, Collard has everything you’d want from a centre-half.
His powerful and uncompromising displays played a big part in Diamonds’ challenge for a play-off place and once Dolman returned, the pair of them struck up an excellent and, in the main, solid partnership.
If rumour is to be believed, Collard was being watched by clubs from a higher level by the end of the season and, if true, it shouldn’t come as any surprise.
He’s still young and should only get better and if that’s the case then he’ll be playing further up the ladder sooner rather than later.