VERDICT - Diamonds' hopes are ended by clinical Alfreton
AFC Rushden & Diamonds's Emirates FA Cup hopes were ended as a late double helped give Alfreton Town a 3-1 success at Hayden Road.
Having done so well to earn a replay with the Vanarama National League North side at the weekend, Diamonds were unable to take their second chance as the Reds booked themselves a third qualifying round trip to Stourbridge a week on Saturday.
It was extremely harsh on Diamonds who more than matched their opponents for long spells/
But they didn’t score at the crucial times when they were in the ascendency and that proved to be costly.
Unsurprisingly, Andy Peaks named an unchanged side following the 2-2 draw at the Impact Arena on Saturday.
His opposite number John McDermott, on the other hand, made three changes from the weekend with Ryan Jennings, Ricardo German and former Kettering Town striker Craig Westcarr all being restored to the Alfreton starting line-up.
Just like they did at the weekend, Diamonds started on the front foot with Joel Gyasi and Luke Fairlamb wasting little time in using their electric pace to good effect on the wings.
The pair almost produced the opening goal when Gyasi raced onto a ball forward and crossed but Fairlamb could only put the ball over as he stretched for it.
There was no holding back from either team as three bookings in the first 18 minutes would testify but it was Diamonds who looked the more threatening and only a fine defensive header prevented Nabil Shariff from having an open goal to score into after Fairlamb had beaten visiting goalkeeper Chris Elliott in a race to the ball down the left channel.
But Alfreton were a threat themselves and Westcarr had a goalbound effort deflected away after a well-worked corner routine before Craig Disley shot straight at Ben Heath from a decent position.
And it was the visitors who broke the deadlock just past the half-hour. Brendon Daniels whipped in a free-kick from the right and Tom Allan was on hand to power home from close-range.
The simplicity of that wouldn’t have pleased Peaks and Diamonds were fortunate not to be further behind as a Daniels shot from 15 yards cannoned off the inside of the post and stayed out with Ben Heath rooted to the spot.
But Diamonds did find an equaliser out of nothing as the first half ticked into injury-time.
Shariff switched the play to Fairlamb on the left and, as Alfreton stood off him, the winger unleashed a fine strike into the bottom corner.
That was a big bonus after Alfreton had seemingly taken control but the visitors could have retaken the lead early in the second half but Westcarr headed over from Ricardo German’s cross when he should have done a lot better.
They also had a big shout for handball in the area turned down as they put Diamonds under the cosh but the hosts did come back into it with Claudiu Hoban shooting straight at Elliott after a free-flowing move.
That was the spark for a good spell of pressure and Elliott produced a superb save to deny Shariff after he had turned his marker while Liam Dolman had a goalbound effort hacked clear.
But Diamonds’ inability to score when on top proved costly. German should have regained the lead for Alfreton but somehow hit the side netting with the goal at his mercy.
However, Daniels did hit the target with 17 minutes to go as he took aim with a free-kick on the edge of the box and found the far corner, giving Heath no chance.
Heath produced an instinctive save to deny Luke Shiels soon after but the game was up with four minutes to go when German was a touch fortunate to score the third as his initial shot blasted off Blaize Punter back onto the striker and the ball crept into the corner.
There could have been more as Brody Robertson had an effort chalked off for offside.
But anything more would have been extremely harsh.
The run may be over for another year but Peaks and his players can be proud as they pushed a good side from a couple levels higher all the way.
Now the focus must be to replicate these displays in the Evo-Stik South League East, starting on Saturday...
Diamonds: Heath; Farrell, Punter, Dolman, Ford; Gyasi, Curtis (sub Dillon, 78 mins), Bunting, Fairlamb; Hoban; Shariff. Subs not used: Lorraine, D Smith, Bell-Toxtle, Finlay, Brown, Boateng.
Alfreton: Elliott; Wood, Shiels, Allan, Keane; Jennings, A Smith (sub Johnson, 37 mins), Disley, Daniels; German, Westcarr (sub Sharp, 72 mins, sub Robertson, 81 mins). Subs not used: Topliss, Marshall.
Referee: Will Finnie.
Goals: Allan (32 mins, 0-1), Fairlamb (45 mins, 1-1), Daniels (73 mins, 1-2), German (86 mins, 1-3),
Bookings: Wood, Hoban, Allan, Keane (all fouls).