AFC RUSHDEN 2 HANWELL TOWN 0
Opening day loss
We played our part in a momentous day for AFC Rushden & Diamonds, who were playing back in their home town for the first time in six years. Having entered into a ground sharing arrangement with their landlords, Rushden & Higham United FC, a tremendous effort by hordes of volunteers enabled the ground to receive the grading necessary to comply with ground grading requirements, the go ahead only being received some seventy two hours before this game was played. Had the grading not been received, the game would have been played at Kempston Rovers where the Diamonds had a ground sharing agreement in place.
620 residents of Rushden arrived to watch the game and there was a real buzz of anticipation around the ground.
For ourselves, our side included four players making their debut in a first team competitive match, goalkeeper Xavi Comes, full back Karl Stevenson,forwards Peter Dean and Michael Malcolm whilst second half substitute Glen Yala became the fifth debutante.
There was little to chose between the sides in the opening minutes but Rushden almost took the lead when a long throw in from the left found Luke Fairlamb who turned Stevenson before drilling a low shot goal wards but Xavi made a fine save turning the ball aside for a corner kick. However, from the resultant corner the ball was headed away only for the referee to award a penalty kick as Kyle Watson clattered into Joe Curtis just inside the penalty area. From our view point it seemed a harsh decision, an opinion shared by those around us. Nabil Shariff scored from the spot, the force of his shot taking it into the net despite Xavi going the right way and getting his left hand to the ball.
Three minutes later at the other end we almost equalised. A corner from the left by Charlie Mitchell was only half cleared to the edge of the penalty area, where Michael Malcolm, a former Rushden & Diamonds player drove the ball back onto the cross bar with Ben Heath in the home goal beaten.
Fairlamb out on the left wing for the home side was giving Karl Stevenson a torrid time and another break down the left flank saw him drill the ball across the face of our goal with nobody on hand to apply the finishing touch. Rushden were now enjoying more of the possession but with everybody working hard we restricted Rushden to shots from distance but Xavi again came to our rescue when he turned aside a fierce cross shot from Ben Farrell. Ten minutes before the interval, Callum Wright who enjoyed an excellent first half cut in from the left but his low cross directed towards the unmarked Malcolm in the centre of the goal was intercepted at the near post.
We made our first substitution at the interval, Glen Yala coming on to replace Karl at full back.
Six minutes into the second half, we conceded our second goal. We conceded an unnecessary corner which was swung in from the left . Xavi under pressure was unable to get a clean punch at the ball which bounced around in our area before being turned home by Shariff. Our claims that the ball had been handled by a home team player were ignored. In the fifty seventh minute we missed a glorious chance to equalise very shortly after we had made our second substitution, Georges Ehui replacing Charlie Mitchell out on the right flank. Joe Chandiram out on the left flank sent a free kick deep into the Diamonds penalty area. The ball was only half cleared and Kyle Watson sent a shot past Heath only to see the ball hit the foot of the far post from where it rebounded to Michael Malcolm but he somehow was not able to turn it back into the empty net. A goal at this stage of the game might well have had a profound effect on the ultimate result. We made our third substitution when Tom Hunt replaced Peter Dean. We then had what seemed like a very valid claim for a penalty when Kyle was upended in the box but yet again our claims were waved aside.
The home sides Ben Farrell became the first player to be shown a yellow card after a studs up challenge on Ollie Duffy but it was not very much longer when Ollie was also shown a yellow card for an unsuccessful effort to bring down Joel Gyasi in full flight.
We were fighting hard to get back into the game with play more confined into the home side's half and another cross shot by Kyle flew across the face of the goal. A long clearance by Xavi caused a problem as home team skipper Liam Dolman was challenged by Michael and the ball bounced into the path of Tom Hunt who shot just wide with Heath stranded. The home side made three substitutions as we continued to enjoy the better of the half but without ever creating any clear cut shooting opportunities, As the game moved into its final minutes, Joe from way out on the left sent in a long range shot with Heath was only able to touch onto the crossbar, the third time in the game that we had struck the woodwork.
However, deep into injury time, we had the woodwork to thank ourselves when a shot from Gyasi beat Xavi and hit the underside of the bar before bouncing back into Xavi's grateful arms. A goal for Rushden then would have given an unfair scoreline on a hard fought contest.
Side; Xavi Comes, Karl Stevenson, Joe Chandiram, Michael Buckley (capt), Oliver Duffy, Calum Duffy, Charlie Mitchell, Kyle Watson, Michael Malcolm, Peter Dean and Callum Wright. Substitutes used ;
Glen Yala for Stevenson (46), Georges Ehui for Mitchell (57) and Tom Hunt for Dean (65). Unused substitutes Tom O'Regan and Ruddock Yala.