AFC Wimbledon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

The Diamonds clinched a vital victory in their push for the playoff places, with a 1-0 victory at Kingsmeadow. A Craig Farrell goal after 55 minutes settled the game after he broke clear and latched onto a shrewd pass from Aaron O’Connor, giving the Diamonds a deserved three points. This was the Diamonds first victory over their opponents who had been having a fine season, and are still pushing towards the play-offs themselves.

Justin Edinburgh made two changes from the side that drew with Oxford United on Wednesday, with Aaron O’Connor starting in place of Jefferson Louis, and Nicky McNamara replacing the injured Paul Terry for just his third start of the season. New signing Shane Luke took a place on the bench, with Simon Downer also unavailable due to injury.

Dons manager Terry Brown had to replace the injured Jon Main, and also made further changes following his side’s midweek defeat at home to Barrow.

It was the Diamonds first visit to Kingsmeadow in almost 10 years, and the work that the Dons had done on the stadium was impressive, as were their efforts in making their visitors welcome, with the 225 or so travelling fans being housed behind the goal that used to be the home end in previous visits.

The first half was shaded by the Diamonds, as they came closest to taking the lead. Lee Tomlin forced a flying save from keeper Pullen after 5 minutes, after a mazy run on the left that had turned two home defenders inside out. Michael Corcoran found space to get a header on goal from the resultant corner, but it was scrambled away. Tomlin was giving stand-in right-back Sam Hatton a torrid time, and he also created opportunities for Farrell and O’Connor, but last ditch defending denied both of them. At the other end Dale Roberts had to make saves from Danny Kedwell and Luke Moore following breaks by Moore broke down the left.

Farrell and O’Connor were combining well, and the partnership saw a reverse pass from Farrell find O’Connor towards the right edge of the area, and he held off a challenge before hitting a shot that was well saved by Pullen. The partnership also came close when Farrell flicked on a Corcoran throw, and O’Connor saw his shot blocked by Pullen.

Kurt Robinson had a rare chance in front of goal after good work by Michael Corcoran saw him get to the byline, and his cross was headed to Robinson just outside the area, but his shot was into the crowd.

The Diamonds performance was a true team performance, with every man willing to chase and close down, giving the Dons little time to get a flowing game together. After some initial threat from set pieces, the Diamonds failed to take advantage of two corners in quick succession, taken by Mark Byrne.

Lee Tomlin produced a repeat of the run and low cross seen in recent games, but this time it was Aaron O’Connor who narrowly managed to slide the ball into goal.

Half-Time: AFC Wimbledon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds continued to create the better chances in the second half, although the Dons had a rare chance for a strike on goal five minutes into the half when a move involving Ricky Wellard and Danny Kedwell saw Kedwell’s cross reach Will Hendry with space for a shot towards the left-hand side of the area, but Dale Roberts continued his impressive recent performances by getting across quickly to block the shot.

At the other end Lee Tomlin was continuing to torment Hatton, and he turned the defender “inside-out” before curling a ball across the area which Max Porter narrowly failed to connect with what would have been a certain goal-scoring strike.

The deserved Diamonds goal was soon to follow, as more excellent work in the Diamonds defence to thwart the Dons threat saw the ball headed forwards from Jamie Stuart via Mark Byrne to Aaron O’Connor about 10 yards inside the home half, and he turned and hit a reverse ball into the path of Craig Farrell, who held off two defenders before he coolly rolled a shot into the net past an advancing James Pullen.

The Diamonds kept the pressure up, with a run from Tomlin down the left seeing Hatton forced to haul him down and earn a yellow card for the challenge. Craig Farrell was unable to repeat the free-kick he scored against Oxford from a similar position, with the ball flying over the bar.

The Diamonds lost the impressive Nicky McNamara after he suffered a deep cut to his knee, possibly picked up as he and Jamie Stuart both tried to clear a high ball, giving Shane Huke his Diamonds debut. The Diamonds kept their rhythm, and one excellent move down the left saw great hold-up play from Craig Farrell and a flick across field to Mark Byrne who flicked the ball on to Aaron O’Connor without it touching the ground, but the striker shot wide.

Dale Roberts made a save from an angled shot by Luke Moore, low down in front of the right hand post, although the shot looked to be going marginally wide. At the other end Jefferson Louis was causing a different kind of threat to the home defence, winning his side a free kick in a dangerous position when fouled by Judge, but again Farrell wasn’t able to produce the quality free kick he has proven he is capable of.

Although the action was punctuated by a number of substitutions following the McNamara injury, and a leg injury for Aaron O’Connor, the Diamonds midfield continued to chase and harry their opponents, with Byrne and Porter covering every blade of grass over and over.

The injuries meant that referee Bull awarded a full 6 minutes of added time, and in the first of these the Diamonds could have made the game safe, when debutant Huke won the ball in midfield, found Jefferson Louis with a clever pass, and then ran on to receive the return ball clear of the Dons defence. He decided to hit the ball first time, rather than take a touch that his pace had probably allowed him to have, but his shot was off target. Mark Byrne then had his chance to score the goal his performance deserved when he latched onto a loose ball after poor defensive work from the Dons, but Pullen reacted quickly and smothered the shot.

The Dons had a final corner and a shot from Ricky Wellard was caught by Roberts to preserve his clean sheet before referee Bull blew the final whistle to confirm a fine Diamonds victory.

Full-Time: AFC Wimbledon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

The Diamonds travelling fans have now seen nine away wins in the league this season (including the “non-game” against Chester City) – the most away wins in the league since the club won the Conference in 2001.

The Diamonds now look forward to the trip to local rivals Kettering Town on Tuesday, with a number of knocks collected in the game to be assessed alongside the injuries to Paul Terry and Simon Downer. Although the season is nearing its final weeks, there is still a lot more football to be played before the league positions are confirmed, and that will continue at Nene Park on Good Friday evening when Crawley Town are the visitors.

Teams

AFC Wimbledon : James Pullen, Samuel Hatton, Steven Gregory, Ricky Wellard, Paul Lorraine (Capt), Ben Judge, Glenn Poole (Nathan Elder 63), Brett Johnson, Will Hendry (Kennedy Adjei 54), Danny Kedwell, Luke Moore

Subs Not Used: Derek Duncan, Seb Brown (GK), Jay Conroy

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Curtis Osano, Mark Byrne, Max Porter, Nicky McNamara (Shane Huke 70), Craig Farrell, Aaron O’Connor (Cliff Akurang 85), Lee Tomlin (Jefferson Louis 74)

Subs Not Used: Joe Day (GK), Rob Wolleaston

Goal: Farrell (55)

Yellow Cards: Hatton, Johnson, Byrne, Judge

Referee: Michael Bull

Attendance: 3640 (Away approx 225)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Nicky McNamara

For video highlights see here.

Match Gallery Pictures courtesy of Mal Swinden

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