VERDICT: Diamonds dig deep to get back on track
AFC Rushden & Diamonds got themselves back on track as they held on for a 2-1 success over Hitchin Town at Hayden Road.
After a home loss to Rushall Olympic and an FA Trophy exit at the hands of Witton Albion, Diamonds really did need to steady the ship and they did so, albeit by the skin of their teeth in the end.
It was looking like a fairly comfortable night at the office after a wonderful Ben Diamond strike and Jack Bowen’s close-range effort had put them 2-0 up after 53 minutes.
But Hitchin, who came into this having had their fine FA Cup run being ended at the weekend, defied their current lowly position in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central by playing themselves back into the contest.
And, by the end, they had a good argument that they merited something for their efforts.
However, having played some decent football in the first hour, Diamonds showed the all-important other side of their game.
True, they probably dropped a bit deeper than they needed to, but no-one could question their heart and desire to see the job through as they threw themselves in front of everything while goalkeeper Ben Heath produced a magnificent late save to ensure the three points stayed in Rushden.
Heath was called into action after 13 minutes when he did well to deny Ezra Forde after he had been played in by the highly-impressive Isaac Galliford who would prove to be a thorn in Diamonds’ side.
But the hosts burst into life after 20 minutes and Jack Bowen shot over from close-range before Ben Farrell saw his effort cleared off the line by Lewis Ferrell after visiting goalkeeper Michael Johnson only half-punched a free-kick to the edge of the area.
Johnson made a decent save to keep out an effort from Nathan Hicks, who was one of the more impressive performers for Diamonds.
And he helped create the brilliant opener as the hosts took full advantage of their purple patch.
Diamond played a neat one-two with the midfielder before curling in a sensational shot that gave Johnson no chance as it found the far top corner.
Heath was forced into a more routine save from Forde early in the second half but Diamonds continued to pose the bigger threat and Hicks was out of luck when he took aim from 25 yards as Johnson produced an excellent save to tip the shot onto the crossbar.
However, the second goal did arrive on 53 minutes and there was nothing spectacular about it.
Hicks delivered a corner from the left, it sparked a mass scramble in the six-yard box and Bowen got the final touch to give his team breathing space. He even threw a cartwheel into his celebration for good measure.
But it was game on after an hour as Hitchin were thrown a lifeline. Galliford’s pass split the defence and Forde got in behind before beating Heath.
Jack Ashton, looking back to his best, produced an excellent challenge to deny Forde at the near post as Hitchin went in search of an equaliser.
But it wasn’t until the dying moments that the drama really arrived.
Heath had to be at his absolute best to tip Scott Belgrove’s deflected effort over the bar before three corners in a row were defended.
However, just when Diamonds might have thought they’d done enough, there was one final chance as Jay Dowie ensured hearts were in mouths for a moment as his header came back off the far post.
The final whistle was met with as much relief as it was with joy as Diamonds put themselves back on course.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you get the job done as long as you do. And Andy Peaks’ team showed they are willing to do whatever it takes.
Don’t be surprised if it’s a similar tale when they take on another of the struggling sides Bedworth United at Hayden Road on Saturday...
Diamonds: Heath; Reynolds, Dolman, Ashton, Brown; Hicks, Westbrook, Farrell (sub Clifton, 79 mins); Bowen, Diamond (sub Dean, 89 mins), Lorraine. Subs not used: Rogers, Casey, Pickworth.
Hitchin: Johnson; Dowie, Webb, Ferrell, Chesmain; Bickerstaff; Belgrove, Cain (sub Barnes, 69 mins), Galliford, Charles (sub Burns, 85 mins); Forde. Sub not used: McCaffrey.
Referee: Ben Cooke.
Goals: Diamond (24 mins, 1-0), Bowen (53 mins, 2-0), Forde (60 mins, 2-1).
Bookings: Ashton (foul), Hicks (kicking the ball away), Bowen (dissent).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Jack Ashton - It’s really good to see the central defender back and, on this evidence, he is on his way to finding his best form. He heads, he tackles and he does it all at 100 per cent - there is no inbetween. Ashton led the way in an excellent defensive effort as Diamonds really were forced to hang in there at times and one superb challenge Ezra Forde at the near post really summed things up. There’s no doubt about it, Diamonds are better off with a fully-fit Ashton in their back four.