VERDICT - Gyasi the hero as Diamonds edge out Poppies
Joel Gyasi scored twice as AFC Rushden & Diamonds edged out Kettering Town 3-2 to move into the third round of the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup.
The first-ever meeting between the clubs at Hayden Road attracted a crowd of over 600 and it was Diamonds who took the bragging rights as they fought back from a goal down to secure victory.
As expected, both sides made changes but both starting line-ups were still strong.
Diamonds were without the influential duo of Liam Dolman and Richard Bunting but there was the welcome sight of Jack Ashton being named among the substitutes after a year out with a serious knee injury.
For the Poppies, top scorer Aaron O’Connor sat out due to a one-match ban while Michael Richens started his two-match suspension. Gary Mulligan was named on the bench, despite a hamstring problem, but Rene Howe wasn’t named in the 16.
However, Kettering were forced into a change just before kick-off when Paul White was ruled out following the warm-up with youngster Justin Greatorex taking his place.
But it was the Poppies who made a flying start as they stormed into the lead inside the first two minutes when Ben Milnes lofted the ball over the Diamonds defence and Rhys Hoenes raced in behind before beating Ben Heath with a low finish.
Mathew Stevens had a shot blocked almost immediately and then, after the resulting corner had been cleared for another, the ball eventually found its way to Liam Bateman who blasted wide from 18 yards.
Stevens probably should have done better when he headed wide from James Brighton’s cross but Diamonds drew level with their first real attack of note on 20 minutes.
And it was a shame for young goalkeeper Greatorex as he was unable to hold on to Ryan Robbins’ shot and Ben Diamond was there to pick up the pieces.
Sam Brown sent a free header over the bar from a corner soon after but Kettering went so close to regaining the lead in their next attack as Hoenes’ first shot was blocked before his second cannoned back off the crossbar.
Instead, it was Diamonds who went in front when Robbins drilled the ball into the box from the left, it was only half-cleared and it landed at the feet of Gyasi who produced a smart finish into the top corner.
The game turned a little scrappy after that with both sides looking dangerous going forward.
Brown sent another header from a Gyasi corner off target while, at the other end, Heath held on to Gary Stohrer’s cross-shot after a neat turn in the box.
But it was Diamonds who struck first after the break as they all-but ended the contest.
And it was Gyasi, a real livewire throughout, who did the damage as he turned Poppies half-time substitute Michael Morrow before finding the bottom corner with a low shot.
Kettering’s luck was out again when Milnes’ beautifully floated 25-yard free-kick smacked off the post with Heath beaten and Lindon Meikle could only blast the rebound high over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
The game became a bit scrappy after that with Ben Farrell firing just over after another driving run from Gyasi.
But Kettering remained a threat and, after a deflected shot from Stevens had been tipped round the post by Heath, the striker did give his team hope with 10 minutes remaining when he stabbed home from close-range after good work from Meikle.
Ben Toseland tested Heath with a long-range effort which the Diamonds goalkeeper held on to but that was the best the Poppies could muster in the latter stages as the hosts saw things out.
Overall, it was a very watchable contest which really could have gone either way. But, in the end, Gyasi’s clinical finishing proved decisive.
Ultimately though, there are much bigger fish for both to fry in the remainder of this campaign...
Diamonds: Heath; Gilchrist, Punter, Brown, Ford (sub Westwood, 68 mins); Gyasi, Farrell, Curtis, Fairlamb; Diamond, Robbins (sub Lorraine, 75 mins). Subs not used: Swailes, Ashton, Boateng.
Poppies: Greatorex; Sundire, Bateman, Solkhon, Toseland; Meikle, Stohrer, Milnes, Brighton (sub Morrow, h-t); Hoenes, Stevens. Subs not used: Mulligan, Camacho.
Referee: Matthew Law.
Goals: Hoenes (2 mins, 0-1), Diamond (20 mins, 1-1), Gyasi (27 mins, 2-1), Gyasi (51 mins, 3-1), Stevens (80 mins, 3-2).: