What a chance – but Spalding United blew it big time.
The Tulips were heading back to the top of the table with a 1-0 lead against 10 men with 12 minutes to go.
Then it all went horribly wrong to leave manager Dave Frecklington questioning the mental strength of his squad.
Understandably so, as you clearly can’t be good enough to win the league if you throw away points carelessly like that.
Spalding seem to have a real problem playing against 10 men as this wasn’t the first time when they have become very sloppy.
Yet again, they created chances to extend the lead but missed them and then got punished at the other end.
Frecklington’s frustration in delivering “the honest truth” during his post-match interview should be a wake-up call to the players.
Of course, Spalding have the quality to challenge for promotion – but that won’t be the case if they continue to give away these soft goals.
Nathan Whitehead’s goal three minutes before half-time put the Tulips ahead and a comeback looked impossible as AFC Rushden & Diamonds right-back Rory Winters was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Skipper Richard Bunting produced a sensational long-range equaliser but the winning goal was a defensive nightmare for Spalding.
Liam Dolman won a back-post header from the corner delivered by Nic Evangelinos and Jack Ashton had an easy finish. It was far too simple.
Spalding had also taken the lead from a set-piece as Whitehead nodded home Jack Wightwick’s corner.
Earlier in the first half, Wightwick and Whitehead had missed the target but the Tulips went on to waste even better opportunities.
The division’s top scorer Bradley Wells could have got a hat-trick but he didn’t test keeper Ben Heath at all.
Wightwick saw a curler bounce off the top of the bar and soon afterwards he was denied by Heath.
Whitehead’s thunderbolt was somehow pushed wide when Diamonds had been reduced to 10 men.
Michael Duggan pulled off a double save from Dolman – reaching out towards the top corner to keep out a free-kick followed by a header midway through the first half.
The Tulips number one halted his former team-mate Jake Newman on a counter-attack but the ball broke for Bunting to find the net from 35 yards.
That was bad enough for Spalding but then Ashton made it 2-1 and Diamonds celebrated wildly on and off the pitch. For the Tulips, though, it was such a missed opportunity.
4-4-1-1: Duggan 7; Lemon 6, Gatter 6, Stainfield 6, Walker 6; Griffiths 6 (sub Hamilton 84 mins), Varley 7, Whitehead 8, Acar 7; Wightwick 7 (sub Wright 89 mins); Wells 6. Subs not used: Higginson, Field, Downey.
AFC RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS
4-4-2: Heath; Winters, Dolman, Ashton, Lee; McNulty (sub Wilson 60 mins), Bunting, Harris, Evangelinos; Lorraine (sub Newman 68 mins), Shariff. Subs not used: Orosz, Ford, Brown.
Whitehead (42 mins, 1-0); Bunting (78 mins, 1-1); Ashton (84 mins, 1-2).
Winters (second bookable offence).
Stainfield, McNulty, Winters, Whitehead (fouls); Bunting (dissent); Varley, Shariff (unsporting behaviour).
Nathan Whitehead – scored the opening goal and came so close to doubling the lead.
Newcastle Town (H) – Saturday.