BetVictor Southern Premier Central
AFC Rushden & Diamonds 4 (Akubuine 24, Acquaye 30, Dolman 63, Farrell 70)
Stratford Town 2 (Sweeney 35 pen 78)
Report by Bryan Hale
STRATFORD Town’s optimism after their midweek win at Redditch United was swallowed up in the Hayden Road Sports Ground quagmire, as play-off chasing AFC Rushden & Diamonds proved just that bit stronger where and when it mattered.
Dan Sweeney again impressed up front for Town, but two goals in each half provided Diamonds with some sort of revenge for the defeat at the Arden Garages Stadium back in August.
Town’s starting line-up showed two changes from the Redditch game, with Kynan Isaac moving to left-back in place of Kai Woollard-Innocent and Mo Sebbeh-Njie coming in for the Barwell-bound Ross Oulton.
The Diamonds team included the familiar face of striker Nabil Shariff.
On a desperately heavy pitch only made playable by plenteous amounts of sand, Diamonds were first to threaten with Dan Alessi heading away a right-wing cross from Gregory Kaziboni followed by keeper James Pardington doing well to collect an in-swinging corner from Matt Slinn.
Yet it was Town – who were kicking up the slope and with the low sun behind them – who had the best opening in the 11th minute when Javia Roberts worked enough space on the right to hit a decent attempt which fizzed into the side-netting.
Soon after some slick work down the left from Ben Acquaye earned Diamonds another corner, but both sides were struggling to cope with the testing surface which was making a passing game virtually impossible.
But in the 24th minute Diamonds took the lead as they moved the ball down the right for Pat Casey to whip in a low cross.
Kaziboni had a shot blocked only for the ball to fall kindly to Jesse Akubuine, who drilled it into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area.
And on 30 minutes Diamonds doubled their lead courtesy of a horrendous mistake from Isaac, who dithered fatally as he tried to deal with a long pass down the inside right channel.
Kaziboni pounced to nick the ball off him and slid it across to Acquaye, who had the simple task of slotting it past the helpless Pardington.
Town, though, were handed a lifeline out of nothing five minutes later when Sweeney wriggled into the penalty area where he was upended by Jack Ashton and the Solihull Moors loanee got up to blast the spot-kick past Ben Heath with the minimum of fuss.
Back came Diamonds to force a succession of corners in the closing minutes of the half, but their clearest chance fell to Nathan Hicks from a throw-in who could only hit a tame effort straight at Pardington.
The first opportunity after the break fell to Sweeney, whose chip from the right drifted narrowly wide of the far post and when play switched to the other end, Kaziboni laid in a chance for Shariff whose shot was beaten away by Partington.
On the hour mark Diamonds at last put a flowing move together, but it was wasted by the overlapping Casey who blazed wildly over, but they regained their two-goal advantage three minutes later from the most unlikely of scorers.
Sam Brown launched a long throw from the right and the imposing centre-back and skipper Liam Dolman climbed to direct a header beyond Pardington into the far corner.
But a couple of minutes later only some heroic Diamonds defending prevented Town getting back into the game, as Heath blocked Sweeney’s shot at point-blank range and then Brown somehow got back to clear Roberts’s follow-up effort off the line.
With 20 minutes to go, though, Diamonds put the result beyond doubt when Kaziboni’s shot was parried by Pardington and substitute Ben Farrell, who had only come on two minutes earlier, reacted the quickest to sweep the loose ball into the empty net.
But Town and Sweeney were not finished yet and on 78 minutes the striker fired in a screamer from all of 25 yards out for his fourth goal in three appearances.
Much to Town’s concern Sweeney limped off with five minutes to go, but by then Diamonds had the points in the bag and saw out the remainder of the game in relative comfort.
DIAMONDS: Ben Heath, Pat Casey, Sam Brown, Jack Ashton, Liam Dolman, Jesse Akubuine (Ryan Dove 75), Ben Acquaye, Matt Slinn, Nabil Shariff, Gregory Kaziboni (Tom Lorraine 75), Nathan Hicks (Ben Farrell 68). Unused subs: Nathanial Gosnal-Tyler.
TOWN: James Pardington, Dan Vann, Kynan Isaac, Courtney Richards, Dan Alessi, Kyle Rowley (Charles Ten-Grotenhuis 75), Lewis Wilson (Gedeon Okito 78), Mo Sebbeh-Njie, Dan Sweeney (Kai Woollard-Innocent 85), Reece Flanagan, Javia Roberts. Unused subs: Kyle Ambris, David Neligwa.