VERDICT: Below-par Diamonds are punished by Rushall
A below-par display was duly punished as AFC Rushden & Diamonds' unbeaten home record this season was ended in a 2-0 defeat to Rushall Olympic at Hayden Road.
Diamonds were a step off the pace for the majority of the afternoon as a big, strong and powerful Rushall side soaked up what the hosts threw at them while being clinical with their opportunities at the other end.
Andy Peaks’ side haven’t had many off days on home soil since their promotion to the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central.
But this was certainly one of them and it was evidence that if the levels do drop below a certain level then teams in this league will take advantage.
Diamonds were without captain Liam Dolman due to personal reasons and that meant a welcome return to the starting XI for Jack Ashton who partnered Jack Westbrook at the heart of the defence.
Dolman’s presence and leadership was certainly missed but games such as this where there really isn’t much to choose usually rest on key moments and Ashton was involved in a couple of them.
The first came after just four minutes when the central defender rose to head Declan Rogers’ corner towards the far post and he and Diamonds were out of luck as the ball cannoned off the upright before being scrambled clear.
But Rushall posed an attacking threat with former Corby Town man Ashley Sammons pulling the strings.
His free-kick from 25 yards was deflected into the path of former Kettering Town defender Orrin Pendley who missed his kick as he tried to turn the ball home from close-range.
Pendley produced an excellent last-ditch challenge at the other end to halt Jack Bowen in full flight before Ben Heath pulled off a fine save to turn a Tyler Little free-kick round the post.
But it was Rushall who broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.
However, it wasn’t without controversy with Ashton penalised for a foul when Edwin Ahenkorah appeared to kick the defender in the back of the head before taking a tumble.
It was a harsh decision but Sammons flighted in a perfect free-kick from the right and Pendley rose higher than anyone else to power his header past the stranded Heath.
That was a hammer blow and Diamonds struggled to get anything going in the early stages of the second half as Rushall continued to be solid at the back.
And they grabbed the crucial second goal on the hour. While the Diamonds defence hesitated, Sammons was alive and, despite receiving a big shove in the back, he calmly rolled the ball beyond Heath to leave the hosts with a mountain to climb.
From there, Diamonds huffed and puffed but aside from Ashton unable to get enough on a good cross into the area, there was little to get excited about as Rushall put on a masterclass in how to kill a game without resorting to blatant time-wasting.
This was a day when Diamonds were below-par and ran into a well organised opponent.
It may not be the last time it happens at this level either but Peaks’ team can take solace from the good run of form they’ve been on.
A tough one to take but their record of bouncing back is pretty good and now they must do it again…
Diamonds: Heath; Reynolds, Westbrook, Ashton, Brown; Farrell, Rogers (sub Dean, 79 mins), Hicks; Diamond, Bowen, Hopkins (sub Lorraine, 64 mins). Subs not used: Curtis, Clifton, Pickworth.
Rushall: Slinn; Little, Hull, Pendley, Adelekan; Smikle, Whittall; Ahenkorah (sub Paisley, 87 mins), Sammons (sub Monteiro, 72 mins), Maye; Lund (sub Berry, 90 mins). Sub not used: Singh.
Referee: Bradley Hall.
Goals: Pendley (45 mins, 0-1), Sammons (60 mins, 0-2).
Bookings: Hull (foul).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Ben Farrell - This was a day when there were few standout performances with Diamonds a step off the pace. But that didn’t stop the likes of Nathan Hicks and Ben Farrell from putting themselves about in the midfield. If there was to be a spark then it always looked likely to come from them. Farrell put in a lot of work for little reward, chasing down second balls and doing what he could to get some attacks going. It wasn’t a day that will live long in the memory but, from Farrell’s point of view, it wasn’t for the lack of trying.