United Counties League
Harrowby United 1
AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Harrowby United went down by an odd goal in three in an exciting encounter with title favourites AFC Rushden and Diamonds.
A bumper crowd of 230 at the Environcom Stadium were treated to two tremendous long range strikes and an excellent penalty save.
The opening exchanges were even as both teams tried to get a foothold in the game. Diamonds enjoyed more of the possession but Harrowby looked dangerous on the break.
After 12 minutes, a free kick into the box from Scott Webb was headed down by Liam Harper and the ball bounced on to the roof of the net. Two minutes later, the Arrows took the lead when Rushden’s Greg Ling lost possession just inside his own half. Lee Shaw carried the ball forward before unleashing a rasping shot from 25 yards that flew into the top corner of the net.
Harrowby almost doubled their lead after 20 minutes when another Harper header, from a good cross by Joe Clarke, was well saved by Matt Finley in the Diamonds goal.
The visitors upped their game and went close after 28 minutes when striker Tom Lorraine pulled the ball back for Adam Confue whose goalbound effort was superbly blocked by Arrows skipper Sam Hill. Almost immediately afterwards, Jason Turner threaded a ball through for Lorraine who, through one-on-one, shot wide.
The equaliser arrived on the half hour mark when a free kick from the left by Matt Gearing was whipped into the front post area and glanced into the net by a neat header from Joe Henderson.
Four minutes before the break, Finley saved well diving to his right to turn away an acrobatic overhead effort from the lively Shaw.
Harrowby frustrated the visitors with their high defensive line in the opening stages of the second half, catching Diamonds offside on numerous occasions. Confue did break through after 57 minutes but shot tamely straight at Jack Drury in the Harrowby goal.
Ten minutes later, the unfortunate Harrowby custodian was forced to leave the field with a back injury sustained gathering a long range shot. Drury’s replacement, Aiden Hotchin, was immediately called into action to save Turner’s well hit shot from a tight angle on the right.
Diamonds were presented with a great opportunity to go ahead after 72 minutes when Whyley fouled Turner just inside the area. Referee Mr Saunby pointed to the spot from where Gearing struck his effort to Hotchin’s left and the young keeper produced an excellent save to push the ball away with a strong left hand.
Diamonds took the points two minutes later with a goal worthy of winning any game. A Gearing corner from the right was cleared only as far as Joe Merrill. The ball sat up nicely for the Diamonds full back who smashed it on the half volley past a helpless Hotchin from fully 35 yards.
Harrowby pushed on and looked for a leveller. Substitute Ian Ward had a shot from the edge of the box that drifted just wide, and Webb’s effort hit a defender before going straight to Finley.
Arrows substitute John Currall tried his luck from distance, but his low shot was straight at the keeper.
Diamonds closed the game out, keeping possession in the corners to secure the points.
Harrowby’s man of the match was Simon Bolland, and match mascot was Jayden Short.
Harrowby United: Drury (Hotchin, 60), Weatherstone, Clarke, Stubbs (Currall, 81), Whyley, Harper, Hill (c), Bolland, Webb, Payne (Ward, 66), Shaw. Subs not used: Warner, Vorley.