VERDICT - Impressive Diamonds hit top spot
AFC Rushden & Diamonds sealed one of their most important wins of the season as they a deserved 2-0 victory over Cambridge City at Hayden Road sent them to the top of the Evo-Stik South League East.
It proved to be a decent clash to warm the hearts of those who braved the cold conditions but there could be no doubt that Diamonds were worthy winners as they bloodied the nose of one of their rivals at the sharp end of the table.
In Tom Lorraine, Diamonds had the best player on the pitch as his incredible work-rate was rewarded with the opening goal just before half-time while the impressive Joel Gyasi capped an energetic display with the crucial second goal with 20 minutes to go.
Andy Peaks made one change to his starting line-up following the 2-0 success at Ashford Town (Middx) with Gyasi recalled while Cameron Gilchrist dropped to the bench.
New signing Jack Westbrook, who signed from Banbury United on Monday, was named among the substitutes.
The first half proved to be fairly even with Diamonds enjoying the majority of possession while Cambridge proved to be a real threat on the counter-attack.
Lorraine had a far-post header held by visiting goalkeeper Niall Conroy before Gyasi, who was a willing worker down the right, fired wide after Sam Brown’s cross ended up at his feet.
Ben Heath had his hands stung by Salim Relizani but that routine save was the hardest the Diamonds goalkeeper was made to work in the opening half/
It was the hosts who continued to pose the biggest threat and Lorraine was denied by Conroy who somehow pushed the striker’s near-post flick over the crossbar.
But there was nothing Conroy could do two minutes before break when Lorraine rose higher than anyone else to power home Gyasi’s left-wing free-kick.
The pattern continued in the second half with Diamonds making most of the running and Lorraine probably should have been a bit more selfish when he went through in the right channel but tried to square to Gyasi instead of shooting.
Ryan Robbins dragged another effort off target and then had an even better go from distance, which Conroy beat away at his near post before collecting.
The striker went even closer with a 20-yard effort, which went just wide but, after Blaize Punter had made a timely clearance at the other end, Diamonds doubled their lead with 20 minutes to go.
Ben Farrell led a swift counter-attack and he played the ball through to Gyasi who skipped past a couple of defenders before beating Conroy with a good, low finish.
Diamonds stayed in control after that and Robbins smacked one just over before Conroy produced a terrific save to help Farrell’s excellent volley over the crossbar.
But a third wasn’t needed as Diamonds comfortably saw things out.
It could still be described as early days but Peaks’ team are in a nice groove as they head towards the halfway stage of the campaign.
And wins like this against teams around you will only help in that quest for promotion...
Diamonds: Heath; Punter, Dolman, Brown; Gyasi, Curtis (sub Westbrook, 81 mins), Bunting, Farrell, Fairlamb; Lorraine (sub Diamond, 77 mins), Robbins. Subs not used: Gilchrist, Ford, Swailes.
Cambridge City: Conroy; Robinson, Gent, Capel, Coulson; Towner, Paterson; Knowles (sub Snaith, 68 mins), Sharman, Olukanmi (sub Spence, 79 mins); Relizani. Subs not used: Vasey, Wilson, Harradine.
Referee: Andrew Ellis.
Goals: Lorraine (43 mins, 1-0), Gyasi (70 mins, 2-0).
Bookings: Fairlamb, Bunting, Gent (all fouls).