VERDICT: Relief and delight as Diamonds pick up a much-needed success
AFC Rushden & Diamonds got themselves back on track as they sealed a fine 2-1 success over high-flying Banbury United at Hayden Road.
Having halted a run of three BetVictor Southern League Premier Central defeats in a row with a 1-1 draw at Rushall Olympic at the weekend, Andy Peaks’ men finally returned to winning ways in a thoroughly entertaining encounter.
Debutant Jordan Macleod and Northampton Town loanee Morgan Roberts capped impressive displays by scoring the goals to give Diamonds their first win since August 26.
And it was one they really had to earn as a wide open first half was followed by a gritty display after half-time as Peaks’ team really dug in to grind out a most welcome three points.
The Puritans cleary came into the game in confident mood after a last-gasp winner had sent them into second spot in the table at the weekend.
And, straight out of the gate, the visitors were on the front foot. Only a fine last-ditch challenge another Cobblers youngster, Ryan Hughes, prevented Jannal Gordon from getting a shot off after he had latched on to a ball over the top.
Banbury went close again when Claudio Dias fizzed a shot over the bar after a corner was only half-cleared.
But, in a frantic opening, it was Diamonds who took the lead when a trademark long throw from Sam Brown caused panic in the Banbury area and it allowed Macleod to sweep home from close-range.
Banbury goalkeeper Jack Harding had to be at his best to keep out Nathan Hicks’ fierce effort after the ball fell kindly for the midfielder.
However, with both sides playing an open and expansive game, Banbury levelled in spectacular fashion on the half-hour.
There appeared to be little threat to Diamonds’ goal when Gordon picked up the ball 25 yards out but he unleashed a fabulous strike which thundered in off the underside of the crossbar with Ben Heath helpless.
Diamonds reacted well though and they were back in front just five minutes later. Macleod did the leg work on the left and his low cross was mis-controlled by a defender. Morgan Roberts was onto it in a flash and he made no mistake with a fine left-footed finish across Harding’s goal.
Giorgio Rasulo curled a free-kick wide at the other end but, after they’d had one shout waved away, Diamonds were given the chance to open up a two-goal lead at the break when Hicks’ cross popped up and struck a Banbury arm in the area.
Referee Gareth Davis was in no doubt but the chance was spurned as Ben Farrell stepped up and sent the spot-kick high over the bar.
That could have proved to be a pivotal moment, but a solid second period ensured it wasn’t.
It may not have been as open after the break but it didn’t make the game any less watchable.
Chances were few and far between at both ends with Ryan Nesbitt off target with a header for the visitors who huffed and puffed without ever really looking like they would find a way through.
Heath made fairly routine saves to deny Charles Hawtin and Rasulo, from another free-kick, but Banbury’s task was made that bit harder late on when Connor Roberts - brother of Morgan - was sent-off for a second booking having been yellow-carded when protesting against the first-half penalty.
With that much-needed win within touching distance, you could sense a bit of panic as Diamonds looked to hold on.
In the end, they saw it out and the cheers as the final whistle sounded were filled as much with relief as they were delight.
It was a cracking encounter, so good you wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
Roll on Saturday then, when the two clubs meet once again in the first qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Trophy.
Diamonds: Heath; Dolman, Collard, Hughes; Reynolds, Hicks, M Roberts (sub Acquaye, 85 mins), Farrell, Brown; Dove (sub Bowen, 56 mins), Macleod (sub Akubuine, 77 mins). Subs not used: Slinn, Cooper.
Banbury: Harding; Hawtin, Henderson (sub Okita, 67 mins), C Roberts, Isaac; Rasulo, Westbrook; Dias, Nesbitt (sub Silva, 85 mins), Haysham (sub Awadh, 69 mins); Gordon. Subs not used: Odhiambo, Chong.
Referee: Gareth Davis.
Goals: Macleod (5 mins, 1-0), Gordon (30 mins, 1-1), M Roberts (35 mins, 2-1).
Bookings: Isaac, Westbrook, M Roberts (all fouls), C Roberts, Farrell (both dissent), Gordon (unsporting behaviour).
Sending-off: C Roberts (second bookable offence).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Jordan Macleod - as far as debuts go, this wasn’t a bad one at all for the striker who signed for Diamonds from Peterborough Sports at the weekend. Almost immediately, he offered them a different dimension in attack as he buzzed around the Banbury defence and not allowing them a moment’s peace. He showed his predatory instincts by picking the pieces after an early goalmouth scramble and then he set up the second goal for Morgan Roberts, who was impressive himself. Andy Peaks has been looking for something a bit different up front and, as usual, he seems to have finally found an answer.