VERDICT '“ Ashton the late hero as Diamonds beat Poppies to lift Hillier Cup
Jack Ashton was the late, late hero for AFC Rushden & Diamonds as they beat Kettering Town 2-1 to win the NFA Hillier Senior Cup at Sixfields.
Diamonds had taken the lead in the first half through Shawn Richards, only for Herve Pepe-N’Goma to cancel it out with a close-range header.
Diamonds were forced to absorb a lot of pressure after the break as the Poppies dominated possession and created more chances.
But it was Diamonds who were celebrating when, in the final minute of stoppage-time, Ashton powered home a Richards corner.
Marcus Law named a strong Poppies side but he was without the suspended Wilson Carvalho, the injured Gary Mulligan and the cup-tied Chris Carruthers, who was replaced at centre-half by Dominic Langdon.
Diamonds boss Andy Peaks, meanwhile, was forced into a number of changes with no fewer than five players being cup-tied.
Claudiu Hoban returned while Luke Hipwell was recalled at left-back and Tom Liversedge was handed a start as he led the line.
It was a fairly even start, although Kettering created the better openings with Will Grocott shooting over before he turned creator when he crossed from the by-line but Ben Stephens could only volley wide from a good position.
Liam Canavan also volleyed off target but it was Diamonds who drew first blood on 18 minutes.
The Poppies were caught napping as Andy Hall’s quick free-kick released Liversedge down the left. And his cross was met by the head of Richards who found the net with the aid of a post.
Kettering tried to respond and Rene Howe dragged an effort wide but Diamonds almost doubled their advantage when Hoban got away on the right but could only fire into the side-netting after cutting in.
Howe headed straight at Matt Finlay from a James Brighton cross but the Poppies did draw level just past the half-hour.
Having broken quickly up the pitch, Silvano Obeng laid the ball into the path of Stephens and his cross was met by Pepe-N’Goma who arrived on cue to head in his first goal for the club from close-range.
The Poppies continued to push before the break with Stephens going close when, after his first effort was blocked, he dragged his second off target.
Craig Hill held on to a Hall shot early in the second half while, at the other end, Stephens was off target after delaying his effort for too long.
Kettering continued to force the issue and a fierce strike from Howe was brilliantly blocked by Ashton before Matt Finlay almost punched the resulting corner into his own net, only for a defender to head clear.
But Diamonds and, in particular, the pace of Richards, continued to be a big threat and he raced away on the left before making the angle for a shot which Hill did well to beat away.
Finlay stopped a Stephens effort as the Poppies continued to have more possession while Canavan’s cheeky attempted chip floated just over the bar.
Liversedge headed over in one of Diamonds’ rare ventures into the Poppies’ half but it was Kettering who posed the bigger threat and Finlay was at his best to keep out fine Ben Baker strike while Stephens sent the rebound over.
But then, in the final minute of stoppage-time, the dramatic finish came.
Liversedge’s header was pushed out for a corner by Hill. But Richards swung it in and Ashton, who just a few minutes earlier had been down with cramp, arrived on cue to power his header home and spark some wild celebrations from the Diamonds fans.
The final whistle came just a few seconds later and Peaks’ side were able to enjoy the bragging rights and a piece of silverware for the trophy cabinet.
Season over for these two then and a decent spectacle to finish it off with.
Diamonds: Finlay; Harris, Dolman, Ashton, Hipwell; Manship (sub Parsons, 83 mins), Quigley; Hall, Hoban, Richards; Liversedge. Subs not used: Vitue, Butt, Ackroyd, Harvey.
Poppies: Hill; Bateman (sub McNeil, 54 mins), Solkhon, Langdon, Brighton; Pepe-N’Goma; Grocott, Canavan, Stephens; Obeng (sub Baker, 60 mins), Howe. Subs not used: Bradshaw, Sweeney, Walker.
Referee: Paul Evans.
Goals: Richards (18 mins, 1-0), Pepe-N’Goma (33 mins, 1-1), Ashton (90 mins, 2-1).
Bookings: Quigley (foul), Howe (unsporting behaviour), Grocott (dissent).