VERDICT: Farrell on the spot as Diamonds close in on promotion
Just a few small steps for Ben Farrell turned into one giant leap towards promotion for AFC Rushden & Diamonds as they picked up a priceless 1-0 victory over AFC Dunstable at Hayden Road.
A competitive, scrappy but watchable encounter between two sides with plenty to play for in the Evo-Stik South League East looked to be heading for a goalless draw, an outcome that wouldn’t have left either team completely happy.
But, with just seven minutes left on the clock, substitute Farrell went down in the area after a foul by Drew Roberts.
The penalty was awarded and Farrell took on the responsibility.
As the ground fell silent, the midfielder took just a couple of steps back before firing down the middle to score what could prove to be one of the most important goals of the season.
At this stage of the season, it’s all about the results and, in the end, this felt like a huge win.
And it’s one that means Andy Peaks’ team are now on the brink of gaining promotion to Step Three at the third attempt.
There proved to be few chances in a first half which saw both sides cancelling each other out in a competitive and watchable contest.
Dunstable caused a few nervous moments, particularly from their impressive set-piece deliveries but it was Diamonds who carved out the best openings late in the half.
Jack Westbrook blasted high over the bar after Liam Dolman headed the ball down for him.
And they went even closer on the stroke of half-time when good work from Spencer Weir-Daley saw him find Joe Curtis, who was only denied his second goal in as many games by a fine save from visiting goalkeeper Jamie Head.
After the break, it was Dunstable who created the better opportunities and Ben Heath helped a Newman Carney shot over the bar before producing one of the key moments in the game.
A free-kick came into the box and Leon Cashman arrived but saw his effort brilliantly turned over the crossbar by the Diamonds goalkeeper.
The hosts went for it after that and Ryan Robbins, who had fed off scraps for most of the night, finally found some space on the right side of the area but saw his effort palmed away by Head.
But then, with time running out, the big moment arrived.
Farrell was felled in the area by Roberts and referee Robbie Dadley was in no doubt as he pointed to the spot.
Farrell stepped up and fired down the middle as Head dived to his right to spark wild scenes of celebration.
But the biggest roar of the night came around 10 minutes later when the final whistle arrived as Diamonds saw the game out with few alarms.
This performance won’t go down as one of the classics but, quite frankly, no-one should care.
Due to their superior goal difference, two wins from their last three matches should see Diamonds promoted.
Onto Cambridge City on Saturday then…
Diamonds: Heath; Punter, Dolman, Brown; Gyasi, Westbrook, Curtis, Oulton (sub Farrell, 64 mins), Fairlamb; Robbins (sub Diamond, 87 mins), Weir-Daley (sub Lorraine, 64 mins). Subs not used: Ford, Ashton.
AFC Dunstable: Head; Griffiths, Cashman (sub Murphy, 78 mins), Morgan, Carney; Roberts, Olaleye, Bircham, Tavernier, Christie (sub Hall, 82 mins); N Frater. Subs not used: R Frater, Langston.
Referee: Robbie Dadley.
Goal: Farrell pen (83 mins, 1-0).
Bookings: Morgan, Olaleye, Christie, Oulton, Roberts (all fouls).