Brave Diamonds bow out of FA Youth Cup

Always next year...

DaveAlbon was in attendence last night and witnessed our young Diamonds’ exit from the FA Youth Cup at the hands of local rivals Northampton Town. Here he gives a detailed report.

Rushden & Diamonds U18s 1-2 Northampton Town U18s (aet)

Rushden’s youth side only had themselves to blame after being knocked out of the FA Youth Cup by local rivals Northampton Town for the second season in succession. Although the lads’ performance last season was somewhat below their usual high standards, the same could not be said this time around, as the Diamonds youngsters were the better side for large periods of the game but missed a whole host of chances to take them through to the second round.

The result and performance however were overshadowed by what looked like a serious injury to midfielder/striker Adam Sharpe, who was stretchered off late in the second half with a suspected broken leg, in what looked like a fairly innocuous challenge with a Cobblers’ player. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Sharpey a speedy recovery, and fingers crossed the injury isn’t as bad as first feared.

The Cobblers started the game the more lively of the two sides, and looked to attack down the left wing at every opportunity through winger Thomas McGowan. Although their cross field balls were regularly finding McGowan in space, his crosses into the box were comfortably dealt with by the Rushden defence, with ‘keeper James Broadbent largely untroubled.

The Diamonds quickly upped their game and had the first real chance of the game when Lewis Hallford was sent clear down the right flank, but as he bore down on goal his powerful strike was superbly saved by Paul Walker in the Cobblers goal. Walker was called into action again shortly after that when a run by the lively Sean Shields caused panic in the Northampton defence, but after a goalmouth scramble Walker was able to gather the ball before any Rushden player could get in a clean shot. Sharpe also had an effort from distance, but this time the ball went high and wide of the goal.

The Cobblers were still threatening at the other end of the pitch, but despite some good approach play they couldn’t find a way through the Rushden defence, marshalled superbly as always by captain Aynsley McDonald. There were a couple of nervous moments for the Diamonds from some dangerous in swinging corner kicks, but on the rare occasions that the defence were caught out there were no Cobblers players on hand to capitalise.

Mid way through the first half the Diamonds broke the deadlock through top scorer Nabil Shariff. A free kick into the Northampton area by Hallford was not dealt with by the defence, with the ball looping up above the ‘keeper Walker who fumbled it under pressure (in what was his only mistake of an otherwise excellent performance) and then could only watch as Shariff lashed the ball in off the underside of the bar from close range. Northampton pushed for an equaliser, but their chances were limited to a couple of efforts from just outside the box that were straight at Broadbent. As the half drew to a close the visitors did come very near to equalising through a powerful 25 yard freekick, which produced the save of the game from Broadbent who dived high to his left to tip the ball behind for a corner.

After a very even first half Rushden were forced into a change at the interval after midfielder Connor Hayes picked up a knock and was replaced by Dan Easlea, with Sharpe moving into central midfield allowing Easlea to take up his favoured left wing position.
The Cobblers again started brightly and should have equalised just a few minutes after the restart, when a deep free kick into the Rushden area saw striker Alex Konstantinou find space in an uncharacteristically sloppy Diamonds defence but could only glance his header wide from close range. Ten minutes later though and the visitors did draw level. A good move by the Diamonds saw Shields shot from the edge of the box well saved by Walker who managed to hold onto the ball. His huge kick up field was completely missed by first the Rushden defence, and then the ‘keeper Broadbent as well, with Konstantinou able to nip in between them all and roll the ball into an empty net.

This setback seemed to spur the Diamonds on, and they began to enjoy their best spell of the game. Within five minutes of the equaliser they had a perfect chance to restore the lead, when a strong run down the right flank by Hallford saw him tripped from behind in the area giving the ref no chance but to point to the spot. Matt Evans stepped up to take the spot kick, but just like Aaron O’Connor and Lee Tomlin before him, albeit for the first team, he hit a woeful effort over the bar without even troubling the ‘keeper.
Sharpe again shot high and wide from long range as the Diamonds youngsters continued to press forwards, before Shields thought he had restored the lead. Shields himself broke free down the right flank, cut inside, laid the ball off to George Cox whose shot from the edge of the area was tipped onto the post by Walker, but although Shields was on hand to tap home the rebound he was adjudged to have been in an offside position when Cox had the initial shot and so the goal was ruled out.

Hallford was starting to see more of the ball on the right wing, but despite some good runs down the flank, his final ball was often disappointing. On one occasion though he did manage to pick out Shariff in the area with a good cross, but the ball was just behind the striker who couldn’t get much power in his header, which resulted in a comfortable save for Walker.
Shariff did go closer shortly after that when he rose to meet a Hallford corner, but despite getting plenty of power on his header this time, Walker produced another fine save to deny him. Walker once again proved to be Shariff’s nemesis, as he saved a 20 yard shot from the Rushden striker, although this one was far more straight forward.

Northampton found chances very hard to come by during the second half, with their only opportunities coming from a couple of long throws which were glanced wide of the post without causing Broadbent too much concern.There was still time for the Diamonds to produce two further chances to secure the win, but on both occasions they failed to hit the target. First, another mazy run from Shields resulted in a scramble in the Cobblers area with the ball eventually falling to Cox, but his close range shot flew up over the bar. Then in injury time, Shields had a chance to cap an excellent performance when he was played in by Shariff, but he took one touch too many and could only fire into the side netting.

The injury to Sharpe at the end of the second half meant that Callum Earls was brought into the action on the left wing, with Easlea moving into an unfamiliar central midfield position. This change upset the balance in the Diamonds side, and they struggled to start extra time as they had finished normal time.

Half way through the first period of extra time the visitors took the lead with what turned out to be the winning goal.
Konstantinou, scorer of the Cobblers first goal, capitalised on another defensive mistake to score a great solo effort, although the striker could count himself very lucky to still be on the pitch having been booked early in the second half, and still being guilty of several further fouls, as well as being spoken to by the referee for dissent, and appearing to dive under pressure from two Rushden defenders. A Diamonds attack broke down with Northampton breaking quickly, through the middle. They looked to have lost the chance as Jake Gillingwater won the ball back on the half way line, but the defender dwelt on it for too long and was robbed by Konstantinou. McDonald then dived into a challenge but missed the ball allowing the Cobblers striker to carry it forward with only Morgan Phillips between him and the goal, and after wrong footing the Diamonds left back a couple of times, he produced a great finish to leave Broadbent with no chance.

The second Cobblers goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Rushden players, although they still had a couple of half chances to grab an equaliser. First, Shields broke down the left and got to the byline, but saw his cross/shot from a tight angle parried away by Walker, before a deep corner from Hallford found Earls at the back post, but his effort was blocked and eventually cleared.

Both sides were clearly tiring going into the second half of extra time, and the Diamonds players were struggling to get their passing game back together. They did manage to carve out three very good chances though that would have taken the game to penalties. Almost immediately after the restart, Shariff found space down the right and laid the ball back to Hallford, whose superb cross found the head of the diving Evans but he could only direct the ball wide of the far post. Phillips went even closer a few minutes later, when a short free kick from Hallford to Easlea saw the latter whip in a superb cross that Phillips headed inches over the bar. And then with only minutes remaining, Shariff went closer still to equalising but after controlling a very difficult ball, holding off two defenders and getting in a shot that beat Walker for only the second time all game, another defender was covering and managed to hook the ball off the line and clear it to safety.

The Cobblers could have made the game safe just after that, but after hitting Rushden on the break, Will Green could only shoot into an empty Airwair stand with just Broadbent to beat.

With just a minute to go, and Rushden just about having accepted that the equaliser wasn’t going to arrive, their day went from bad to worse as Gillingwater was sent off for a second bookable offence as he brought down Konstantinou, ironically the very player who was more deserving of a red card than any other on the pitch.

1. James Broadbent
2. Matt Evans
3. Morgan Phillips
4. George Cox
5. Aynsley McDonald (c)
6. Jake Gillingwater
7. Lewis Hallford
8. Connor Hayes (sub Dan Easlea)
9. Nabil Shariff
10. Sean Shields
11. Adam Sharpe (sub Callum Earls)

Attendance: 432


It was good to see some of the first team players adding to the attendance; Jake Beecroft, Nicky McNamara, Max Porter, Aaron O’Connor, Craig Farrell and Michael Corcoran were all there to cheer them on (there may have been others, but they were the only ones I saw).

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