VERDICT - Hat-trick hero Robbins keeps Diamonds on course
Ryan Robbins hit a superb 10-minute Boxing Day hat-trick as AFC Rushden & Diamonds' relentless march at the top of the Evo-Stik South League Premier continued with a 3-1 success over Kempston Rovers at Hayden Road.
The striker blew the visitors away in a devastating first-half spell after Diamonds old boy Jake Newman had stunned the home crowd when he gave Kempston an early lead.
Robbins’ treble capped another fine day for Andy Peaks’ side who made it an incredible eight wins in a row to ensure they are in pole position for a promotion push going into the new year.
Unsurprisingly, Peaks named an unchanged squad following the 1-0 success at Hanwell Town and Diamonds started brightly with Robbins heading straight at Martin Conway while Ben Farrell fired over and Tom Lorraine saw a shot deflected wide.
But the home crowd were silenced on 10 minutes when Newman produced an excellent low finish to score the first goal conceded by Peaks’ team for 550 minutes to give Kempston the lead.
That stopped the home side in their tracks for a while and they struggled to find a way through, although Liam Dolman had claims for a penalty waved away after he appeared to be wrestled to the ground from a free-kick.
But they got back on level terms on 21 minutes when a lovely flick from Tom Lorraine released Robbins in the left channel and he coolly lifted the ball over Conway.
That was just the start of an incredible 10-minute spell for the frontman.
He put Diamonds in front when he rolled the ball into the corner following a driving run from midway inside his own half.
But the best was yet to come as Robbins completed his treble in stunning fashion as he took aim from fully 35 yards and Conway could only stand still as the ball flew into the top corner.
Diamonds looked comfortable after that and Luke Fairlamb was denied by Conway before the break while Robbie Goodman shot wide from a decent position at the other end.
It was a low-key start to the second half but then, on 54 minutes, Hayden Road was plunged into darkness as the floodlights failed.
After a 15-minute delay, the lights were restored and Diamonds looked the more likely to extend their lead with Conway hanging on to a Joel Gyasi free-kick but he also held an effort from Liam Dolman.
Kempston couldn’t force the ball home following a scramble in the Diamonds six-yard box but the hosts went close at the other end when Farrell flicked a header just wide of the far post.
Newman tried his luck with a long-range effort but it was straight at Ben Heath but it was Diamonds who continued to pose the bigger threat and Conway made another decent save to deny Fairlamb, who was a real livewire throughout, after he exchanged passes with Robbins.
Robbins so nearly bagged himself a brilliant fourth when he returned a Conway clearance with interest after the goalkeeper had raced from his goal but the ball struck the post of the unguarded goal and went out to safety.
The day, of course, already belonged to the frontman and he was afforded a bow in front of the fans when he was replaced by Ben Diamond with eight minutes to go.
This was another good job done by Diamonds. They head into 2018 sitting pretty at the summit. And, in this mood, it will take a good side to throw a spanner in the works...
Diamonds: Heath; Punter, Dolman, Brown; Gyasi, Farrell, Westbrook, Curtis, Fairlamb; Lorraine, Robbins (sub Diamond, 82 mins). Subs not used: Gilchrist, Smith, Ashton, Bunting.
Kempston: Conway, McNulty (sub Lyon, 58 mins), Collard, Goodman, Lee; Heneghan, Simpson; Tshikuna (sub Shepherd, 61 mins), Ivy (sub Riley, 73 mins), Crawley; Newman. Subs not used: Lewis, Stoyles.
Referee: Robert Hathaway.
Goals: Newman (10 mins, 0-1), Robbins (21 mins, 1-1), Robbins (25 mins, 2-1), Robbins (31 mins, 3-1).
Booking: Heneghan (foul).