VERDICT '“ Diamonds' hopes are hit again as Uxbridge snatch victory
There's a very real danger that AFC Rushden & Diamonds' blip could turn into a full-blown crisis.
After three successive 1-0 defeats, there was a genuinely feeling that this would be the day that Andy Peaks’ side would get their promotion challenge back on track.
Instead, they were sent tumbling to yet another loss after Wayne Carter’s dramatic stoppage-time header ensured Uxbridge headed home with, just by the celebrations at the end, a very satisfying three points in the bag.
In any other league, four defeats on the bounce would probably end any hopes a team may have of mounting a challenge for elevation.
But the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central is no normal league this season.
Incredibly, given the way other results went this weekend, Diamonds are still in with a chance of the title and they have a big opportunity to secure a top-five finish.
However, the plain and simple fact is that if Diamonds carry on the way they’re going at present, they won’t need to worry about preparing for a Premier Division campaign next season.
It’s times like this that you’re glad you aren’t a manager.
It’s hard to work out what has gone wrong for Diamonds and clearly, it’s left manager Andy Peaks scratching his head.
He made wholesale changes after those three losses but, unfortunately, the common theme continued.
The goals have dried up, mistakes are being made at the other end and there seems to be a real lack of confidence in a squad that have proven it is good enough to be punching at the top end of the table.
There was nothing spectacular about Uxbridge on this occasion. They worked hard, they created a few chances and they took two of them.
But Diamonds, as the home side, really didn’t do enough at times.
The first half was scrappy. Both sides flew into their challenges and it was all a bit too much for visiting winger Jo-Jon Bates, who was hauled off after 37 minutes, after he threatened to self-implode.
He could have easily been sent off for a high challenge on Claudiu Hoban. Instead, he escaped with a booking but was placed on a final warning by referee Edward Cook after conceding another foul and that proved to be his last act as he was substituted - clearly the visiting bench could see what was coming.
But that summed up a very niggly first half. There were free-kicks galore but few chances.
Diamonds’ best efforts came from Elliot Sandy, who started in his preferred role in attack.
He forced Paul McCarthy into a good save at the near post and was then unlucky with a clever overhead-kick after he good work from Andy Hall.
But the warning signs were there for Diamonds before and after the break.
Matt Woods had a shot blocked, Dan Bailey volleyed over from close-range and Abobaker Eisa was only denied by a good challenge from Liam Dolman after a neat turn in the area.
Matt Finlay made a good stop from Anthony O’Connor soon after the restart but the way the opening goal went in would have infuriated Peaks.
Ben Peden robbed Hoban just inside his own half and then raced forward. The right-back must have run 30 yards unchallenged and he took full advantage as he beat Finlay with an excellent low shot into the bottom corner.
Peaks responded by throwing on Tom Lorraine and his arrival gave them more impetus in the final third.
And, with 20 minutes to go, they levelled things up when Jack Ashton nodded the ball back into the area and, while everyone else stood still, Sandy advanced before beating McCarthy for his first goal in Diamonds colours.
From there, most would have expected the hosts to push on. And for 10 minutes or so, they looked like winning it.
Debutant James Jepson, who produced a swashbuckling display in midfield, shot wide when he might have done better and then McCarthy produced an excellent stop after Mark Dennison almost turned Lorraine’s cross into his own net.
But the full-blown assault on the Uxbridge goal never really materialised and it was the visitors who finished the stronger.
Lewis Cole was unlucky with a dipping volley that missed by inches with Finlay beaten.
And just when it looked like petering out into a draw, disaster struck as the game moved into the third minute of stoppage-time.
Finlay produced a stunning save to deny O’Connor at the far post. But the winger was able to turn the ball back into the six-yard box and Carter was there to head home - a hammer blow.
That was the spark for a rush to the exits for the home fans. ‘That’s our season over’ one said as he departed.
The funny thing is, the season isn’t over, far from it.
Other teams’ inconsistencies are ensuring there is still all to play for for Peaks and his team.
But they have to find their edge again. The swagger they were playing with just a few weeks ago has disappeared.
They need to find it again and quickly before all their hopes and dreams fade away.
Diamonds: Finlay; Kennedy, Dolman, Ashton, Lee; Hall, Jepson (sub Quigley, 82 mins), Manship, Hoban; Stevenson (sub Lorraine, 63 mins), Sandy. Subs not used: Wilkinson, Harris, Parsons.
Uxbridge: McCarthy; Peden, Bailey, Dennison, Thomas; O’Connor, Warner, Cole, Bates (sub Eisa, 37 mins); W Carter; Woods (sub Grant, 72 mins). Subs not used: H Carter, Heneghan, Gray.
Referee: Edward Cook.
Goals: Peden (52 mins, 0-1), Sandy (70 mins, 1-1), W Carter (90 mins, 1-2).
Bookings: Peden, Bates, Hall, Sandy (all fouls).