VERDICT: Nine-man Diamonds demolished by Bromsgrove
AFC Rushden & Diamonds ended up on the end of a humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bromsgrove Sporting after a remarkable afternoon at Hayden Road.
For an hour or so, this was a great advert for the BetVictor Southern League Premier Central.
Two sides went to battle looking to win the game and it resulted in one of the most entertaining first halves of football you will see anywhere.
Clearly, Diamonds were hit by the sending-off of Zack Reynolds just before half-time.
But, having had the break to regroup, they were still firmly in the equation up until the 57th minute when Jack Ashton inexplicably lunged in on Charlie Dowd close to the halfway line.
The second red card of the day was fully deserves and, once Nathan Hayward had headed home Bromsgrove’s fourth just five minutes later, the final outcome was never in doubt.
But, and it’s a big but, there could be no excuse for the way Diamonds folded in the final 10 minutes.
Yes, they were down to nine men and yes, the game had already gone. But Bromsgrove were allowed to tear through them at will in the latter stages to eventually rack up a scoreline that wouldn’t look out of place in the Rugby World Cup.
For that, questions will have to be asked and answered.
There was little sign of the madness that would come during that competitive opening period.
It could have been 1-1 after just four minutes with Will Shorrock, for the visitors, and the hard-working Ryan Dove, for Diamonds, both being off target with early headers.
But it was Bromsgrove who broke the deadlock with the goal kicking off a memorable afternoon for Michael Taylor.
He rolled away from Ashton and then had too much power for the centre-half and Patrick Casey and he barged his way through before slotting under Ben Heath.
But Diamonds reacted well and drew level on 21 minutes when, after a corner, Jesse Akubuine’s shot deflected into the path of Dove and his final shot found its way in with the aid of another deflection.
It was end-to-end stuff and the visitors regained the lead thanks to Jack Wilson’s free-kick, which went through the Diamonds’ wall and left Heath rooted to the spot.
The lead only lasted four minutes this time, however. And it was a moment to forget for visiting goalkeeper Tony Breeden as he was robbed of possession by Jack Bowen near the corner flag and the Diamonds frontman produced a precise finish, curling the ball into the far bottom corner.
But the game really swung the way of Bromsgrove in the latter stages of the first half.
Taylor showed his power again, brushing aside the challenge of Alex Collard in the area before cutting in and firing a shot into the far corner.
And then, to make things that bit harder, Reynolds saw red after catching Joshua Quaynor in the follow through from a challenge. Malice seemed to be at a minimum but referee Greg Rollason wasted no time in brandishing the red card.
Diamonds did regroup, however, and they were still well in the game until Ashton’s ugly lunge on Dowd.
There were few arguments about that one and with Hayward heading home the left-wing corner so soon afterwards, it left Diamonds and their fans wishing away the final 25 minutes or so.
Initially, they stood their ground and Heath produced a couple of good saves to deny Taylor and Richard Gregory.
But once the outstanding Taylor had completed his hat-trick with eight minutes to go after Diamonds were caught napping from a quick free-kick, the floodgates opened.
Ben Acquaye did see an excellent long-range strike tipped onto the bar by Breeden.
But there was no excuse for what followed as Shaquille McDonald made it 6-2 after Taylor had seized on a short back-pass, Taylor barged through a non-existent defence for the seventh and Heath allowed a Dowd shot to go through his hands as the rout was completed.
If Diamonds had lost this game 4-2, we would have been reflecting on a valiant effort in the face of adversity after the two red cards left them firmly up against it.
Unfortunately, boss Andy Peaks and his players will now have a week to reflect on a defeat that will make more headlines than it should have done...
Diamonds: Heath; Reynolds, Collard, Ashton, Casey; Akubuine (sub Dolman, h-t), Hicks, Slinn, Acquaye; Bowen (sub Farrell, 61 mins), Dove (sub Lorraine, 79 mins). Subs not used: Johnson, Cooper.
Bromsgrove: Breeden; Wilson, Broadhurst (sub Hull, 14 mins), Lincoln, Westwood; Dowd, Hayward, Quaynor, Shorrock (sub McDonald, 72 mins); Gregory (sub Rankin, 81 mins), Taylor. Subs not used: Brown, Massey.
Referee: Greg Rollason.
Goals: Taylor (11 mins, 0-1), Dove (21 mins, 1-1), Wilson (34 mins, 1-2), Bowen (38 mins, 2-2), Taylor (44 mins, 2-3), Hayward (62 mins, 2-4), Taylor (82 mins, 2-5), McDonald (87 mins, 2-6), Taylor (90 mins, 2-7), Dowd (90 mins, 2-8).
Bookings: Hull, Collard (both fouls).
Sendings-off: Reynolds, Ashton (both serious foul play).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the match: Michael Taylor - It’s not very often I do this as, of course, my focus is usually on the teams I cover. But sometimes you get games where there is no choice but to praise the opposition. And, almost from minute one, Michael Taylor was unplayable. His brute strength and good touch made him too hot for the Diamonds defence to handle all afternoon. He scored half of Bromsgrove’s goals, he might have even had more. He was the outstanding player on a brutal afternoon.