|Date||Saturday 12 March 2016|
|Match||Royston Town v AFC Rushden & Diamonds|
|Competition||Evostik League Southern: Division One Central|
With nine games to go in this intriguing season nothing was ultimately decided in this tight match between two of the promotion chasers on a sunny and crisp afternoon at Garden Walk, but Royston Town got the three points and put down an unambiguous statement of intent to all their rivals and it was their professional and disciplined display vs AFC Rushden & Diamonds that was the difference on the day as the Crows took their league unbeaten run to eight games.
The Diamonds have been a bit goal shy recently and had signed proven ex Kettering Town striker Eliott Sandy in the week and he had come straight into the starting line-up. Steve Castle had restructured slightly giving Ryan Frater his first start at centre-half alongside Dan Brathwaite and going with Tommy Hull in the number 10 shirt with Ryan Ingrey having a seat on the bench and with Erkan Okay and Ryan Towner lining up alongside skipper Scott Bridges in midfield.
The away game back in early December had seen a closely contested, wind affected, first half, then a second half blitz from hat-trick scoring Rhys Hoenes to win 1-4 and it was clear that the visitors had no intention of letting Hoenes run riot again and we saw numerous outside of the box fouls to stop all of the surging Crows’ forward momentum.
Referee Chris Francis missed a lot of these Diamonds’ fouls, including a clear elbow on Hull by Jack Ashton that saw the bloodied Royston player need a head bandage. It was also obvious that this was not going to be a game for the football purists and Okay received an early deserved yellow card for a late challenge, but inconsistent officiating saw a worse foul by Diamonds’ Dan Quigley go unpunished.
Royston’s pressing game was relentless and the Diamonds were working hard to counter this but on ten minute Hoenes broke left in space but his cross was over-hit.
Diamonds asked questions themselves with a good effort on 20 minutes from Ted Lorraine that went wide then on 25 minutes big unit Liam Dolman headed goal-ward but this effort was headed off the line easily by the well placed Danny May.
The midfield battle continued with no real clear scoring chances apart from sporadic free kicks for both sides and with half time looming it took an opportunist finish from Simon Thomas on 45 minutes to score the only goal of this close match.
An edge of box Crows free kick – conceded for another flying elbow – was driven in powerfully low and arrived at Thomas’ feet on the edge of the six yard box who tried to shift the ball for a right foot strike but bodies were in the way and he improvised a clever back heel flick that wrong-footed defenders and keeper Matt Finlay alike and rolled into the bottom left corner of the net with teasingly slow pace. 1-0.
No half time substitutions from Castle and the Diamonds came out stronger looking to get back in this match quickly and it was the Crows turn to defend frantically and concede free kicks in semi dangerous areas.
With early second half visitor impetus dealt with the mainly midfield contest was back on and it was the Crows that won the match with this continued commitment and pressing that gave their opponents no real time to create anything meaningful.
Ryan Ingrey was brought on for Erkan Okay on 60 minutes and this helped Hoenes and Thomas with their hold up and forward play.
A cast iron penalty claim was ignored by the poorly positioned referee on 80 minutes as Thomas was clearly shoved by Dolman as the striker was about to make shot contact in the six yard box.
Thomas made way for Reece Dobson on 81 minutes and Gus Scott-Morriss came on for Hull in the last minute of game play.
The Crows’ magnificent team effort, coupled with confidence and organisation, to see out this match was rewarded with a superb 1-0 win against a physically strong, but today toothless, opponent and this win, witnessed by a vocal and encouraging buoyant home crowd, should add to the positive momentum as we go into the final important weeks of the season.
Team: Yates, May, Watters, Bridges Scott, Frater, Brathwaite, Okay (Ingrey), Towner, Hull (Scott-Morriss), Thomas (Dobson), Hoenes.
Subs not used – McDevitt, Powell.