VERDICT '“ Brilliant Diamonds move a step closer to promotion
AFC Rushden & Diamonds made it a night to remember as they booked their place in the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central play-off final with a brilliant 2-1 success at Royston Town.
Jack Bowen gave Andy Peaks’ team a deserved first-half lead before skipper Liam Dolman rounded things off with a penalty 10 minutes from full-time after home goalkeeper Ron Yates was sent off for bringing down Bowen in full flight.
Claudiu Hoban was also sent off late on for a second bookable offence and then Scott Bridges tested the nerves when he pulled one back in the first of six minutes of injury-time.
But Diamonds, roared on by a large and extremely vocal army of supporters, held on to secure a famous victory and also gain a bit of redemption after being beaten by Royston twice during the regular campaign.
It secured them a clash at St Ives Town, who beat Egham Town in a penalty shoot-out in the other semi-final, on Bank Holiday Monday when a place in the Premier Division will be up for grabs.
Peaks made just one change to the side that beat Godalming Town in the final game of the regular season with captain Dolman returning to the starting line-up.
And it was Diamonds who started the brighter before going on to dominate the first half.
There was an early sight of goal for Shawn Richards as his shot was saved by Yates after Hoban’s cross was nodded down by Bowen.
Bowen was out of luck when a Richards cross fell for him but the striker’s shot into the ground cannoned back off the crossbar.
Diamonds didn’t give the hosts an inch, closing them down with a high intensity.
And it was no surprise when they took the lead after half-an-hour. Richards’ corner was powered towards goal, Yates produced a smart save but Bowen was there to hook the ball into the roof of the net.
Lewis Leslie had a curling effort tipped over by Yates before the break while Rhys Hoenes’ attempts to win a penalty for the hosts were only greeted by a yellow card for simulation.
Leslie’s header was held by Yates early in the second half as Diamonds again started on the front foot and the same player flicked another effort just over as he helped on Hoban’s 18-yard strike.
But Diamonds remained in total control with Royston not being allowed the time or space to create any chances to trouble Matt Finlay.
And the game was up with 10 minutes to go. Bowen raced through on goal was hauled down by goalkeeper Yates.
The inevitable red card followed, midfielder Ryan Ingrey took over the gloves but his first job was to pick the ball out of the net as skipper Dolman coolly sent him the wrong way from the spot.
That sparked wild scenes of celebration from the travelling army of fans, although those were dampened somewhat when Hoban was also sent off for a second bookable offence after two fouls in the space of five minutes.
And if there were any nerves amongst the Diamonds fans, they were tested when Bridges followed up to score after Finlay could only parry a shot into his path.
But there were no more mistakes as Peaks’ side saw things out to ensure their season continues.
Another short trip to St Ives, a team Diamonds took four points off during the regular season, now awaits on Monday afternoon.
One more match, one more win to find and if Diamonds perform like they did on this occasion, it would be a brave man who bets against them...
Royston: Yates; May, Frater, Braithwaite (sub McDevitt, 24 mins), Watters; Stuart Bridges (sub Castiglione, 56 mins); Hoenes, Scott Bridges, Towner, Ingrey; Thomas (sub Mason, 62 mins). Subs not used: Hull, Powell.
Diamonds: Finlay; Kennedy, Dolman, Ashton, Lee; Harris, Quigley; Richards, Leslie (sub Sandy, 90 mins), Hoban; Bowen. Subs not used: Shariff, Manship, Parsons, Hall.
Referee: Alistair Wilson.
Goals: Bowen (30 mins, 0-1), Dolman pen (80 mins, 0-2), Scott Bridges (90 mins, 1-2).
Bookings: Towner, Lee, Leslie, Mason, Hoban (all fouls), Hoenes (diving).
Sendings-off: Yates (professional foul), Hoban (second bookable offence).