VERDICT: Heartbreak for AFC Rushden & Diamonds as play-off hopes go up in smoke

An afternoon that started with hopes, dreams and expectations ended in total devastation for AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

Saturday, 23rd April 2022, 7:00 pm
The reaction of captain Alex Collard, who missed out through injury, tells the story after AFC Rushden & Diamonds missed out on a play-off place. Pictures courtesy of Hawkins Images
The reaction of captain Alex Collard, who missed out through injury, tells the story after AFC Rushden & Diamonds missed out on a play-off place. Pictures courtesy of Hawkins Images

Few would have contemplated the worst case scenario but it developed on a dramatic final afternoon of the Southern League Premier Central as Diamonds were beaten 1-0 by Nuneaton Borough at Hayden Road while Alvechurch claimed a 3-1 home success over Royston Town.

It meant that, for the first time since February, Diamonds were knocked out of the top five with Alvechurch snatching the final play-off place and a shot at promotion at the death.

The majority of those in attendance at Hayden Road were left shell-shocked, the Diamonds players left slumped on the floor as their dreams were ripped away from them.

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Nathan Tshikuna in action for Diamonds

The inquest will probably start almost immediately.

The truth is, two 1-0 defeats - at St Ives Town on Easter Monday and this final-day loss - left the door ajar for Alvechurch and their superb form at the end of the campaign took them into the top five places.

Diamonds had looked pretty much home and hosed a few short weeks ago but, as the pressure cranked up, they couldn’t quite deliver.

In the long run, everyone should be able to reflect on a fine season.

Diamonds were 17th after a 1-0 home defeat to Barwell on October 19 so the turnaround, which was started by Andy Peaks and continued by Andy Burgess, was highly impressive.

That, however, won’t stop this miserable last-day drama from stinging for sometime.

And the sorry truth is that Diamonds, on this day, just weren’t good enough.

They played as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders while Nuneaton played with freedom after their Step 3 status had been confirmed during the week.

The visitors were also helped by the fact they had the best player on the pitch in the form of Charlie Dowd who grabbed the only goal of the game.

Diamonds offered little in the first half with the only lift being the news of an early goal for Royston at Alvechurch.

By half-time, however, the picture had changed.

Nuneaton took the lead at Hayden Road in the 34th minute when Luke Benbow chested a long ball down and Dowd cracked home a fine volley from the edge of the area.

Newly-crowned supporters player of the year Dean Snedker did get a hand to it but the ball found its way in via the inside of the post.

Snedker had to save from Anthony Dwyer soon after and the frustration was only enhanced with the news of an Alvechurch equaliser.

Snedker produced another superb save to deny Dwyer early in the second period and, after news had filtered through of Alvechurch moving 3-1 up, the situation became more desperate.

But, despite plenty of huff and puff, the reality was that Diamonds failed to make Nuneaton goalkeeper Tony Breeden make a real save of note.

Liam Dolman, pushed forward as a third striker, scooped over from close range but a flag was already up for offside.

Connor Furlong, one of the few who could be content with his personal display, put a couple of decent deliveries in from the right but there were no takers.

And, in the dying moments, Will Jones tried to force the ball home after Breeden had held a cross with a free-kick going in Nuneaton’s favour.

The final whistle was greeted by 11 bodies in white slumping to the floor while there was more shock than disappointment on the terraces.

It was the most heartbreaking of finishes to a day that had promised so much.

Diamonds will, no doubt, be back. But this will take a bit of time to get over.

Diamonds: Snedker; Diamond, Casey, Dolman, Warburton; Furlong, Bell-Toxtle, Akubuine (sub Diakiesse, 81 mins), Tshikuna; Bush (sub George, 66 mins), Jones. Subs not used: Snelus, Hughes, Johnson.

Nuneaton: Breeden; Beejer (sun Obeng, 78 mins), Magunda, McManus, Charles; Dowd, Noble, Master, James (sun Kaziboni, 57 mins), Dwyer, Benbow (sub Clements, 86 mins). Subs not used: McCrory, Osbourne.

Referee: Richard Eley.

Goal: Dowd (34 mins, 0-1).

Bookings: Beejer, Akubuine, Charles, Dolman (all fouls).

Northants Telegraph man of the match: Connor Furlong - one of a few who was lively all afternoon. Delivery was spot on at times but found few takers for those balls into the box.

Attendance: 644.