An overall positive league opening trip to AFC Rushden & Diamonds ended in a goalless draw, with visiting side Needham Market left feeling that on another day they'd be travelling home with maximum points.
Manager Kevin Horlock was without six players for the Pitching In Southern League Central Premier Division game, with Harry Knights, Tom Fitzgerald, Noah Collard - along with Byron Lawrence and Luke Ingram - all out injured, while Taylor Clark was away on holiday.
The first half began in end to end fashion, with Needham having a half decent chance in just the second minute. A clever header across the box from league debutant Jamie McGrath towards Patrick Brothers forced a deflection off a defender for the afternoon's first corner - though Ross Crane's low shot-cross, following a neat one-two with fellow new signing Jacob Lay, was blocked.
Arguably, Needham enjoyed the more of possession, especially so in the second half, with the better chances throughout the encounter falling to the Suffolk side, sporting the away yellow kit. However, for all their efforts, the Marketmen just couldn't find the breakthrough, great skill from Ross Crane saw the playmaker keep possession brilliantly despite pressure from the home defence, who ultimately did just enough - as the loose ball couldn't quite keep the ball in play.
Down the other end though, the woodwork denied Rushden from breaking the deadlock in the 10th minute, Jenson Cooper chested down a well taken right wing cross, across goal, only for his half-volley from close range to rebound just wide off the outside base of the left-hand post.
Fourteen minutes later, meanwhile, it was Needham who were a centimetre away from taking the lead themselves, Jacob Lay's cleverly taken, low left wing, corner picked out the arriving Kyle Hammond, whose lasered strike on the edge of the box went just past the bottom near post.
On the other hand, the Diamonds had a great opportunity on the half-hour mark, Miguel Ngwa's audacious right wing cross picked out Evan Empochontsif, diving in from point blank range at the back post, albeit his downward header bounced over Marcus Garnham's crossbar. Had it not been for a crucial deflection, three minutes later, Needham could well have taken the lead - Ross Crane's brilliant right wing corner found the onrushing Dan Morphew, who leapt well only to see his otherwise goal-bound glancing header deflected behind the far post, for a corner.
Just seconds later, a smart double save from Rushden Man Of The Match goalkeeper Dean Snedker denied Needham from opening the scoring. Jacob Lay's left wing corner picked out Ross Crane, in acres of space close to goal, although his low shot towards the bottom far corner was instinctively beaten away by the smart reactions of the home shot-stopper. The ball then fell to Patrick Brothers, with the midfielder's low driven shot, from outside the box, tipped behind well by Snedker, down to his right-hand side.
Another smart stop from Snedker once more denied Needham Man Of The Match Ross Crane in the 43rd minute, the winger - formerly of Ipswich Town, was threaded through past the defence and down the left-hand side of the box. The league debutant then fired a great low strike towards the near post, which Snedker was equal to, as the 'keeper tipped it behind well.
The Marketmen dominated the second half, with luck just not on the visitors' side with Snedker adding to his collection of smart saves for the afternoon and a goal-line clearance from Ryan Hughes ultimately ensuring the home side a share of the spoils. First though, Rushden had a half chance, just two minutes after the restart, after a left wing corner saw a Diamonds player free from close range, albeit his back post effort was deflected behind for a corner. From that point on, all of the action then took place down the other end, with Ross Crane again being denied by Snedker in the 50th minute. The Needham forward, on this occasion, cut inside from the right wing, before whipping a neat low shot across goal - albeit held onto by the diving 'keeper.
Alert defending a minute later denied Needham another good chance, after McGrath's flick on across towards Crane was poked behind by a defender. Crane's set-piece picked out Lay, who leapt highest, but couldn't quite direct his header goalwards.
The flurry of Needham chances continued with arguably the best save of the lot coming in the 52nd minute, Kyle Hammond spotted Snedker off his line, and almost took advantage as his fierce strike from the half-way line tipped over well by the retreating, diving, goalkeeper.
Just shy of the hour mark, Needham tested the home backline once again - Ross Crane's sumptuous left wing cross across the face of goal forced Courtney Lashley to beat a lurking yellow shirt to it, and poke it just behind the far post for a corner. The Marketmen were determined to come away with all three points, albeit to no-avail, despite Jacob Lay exploiting space well to drive through the centre, only to fire a low shot just wide of the bottom left hand corner, from just outside the box. If there was any indication that the game would end goalless, it was most likely to have been, when in the 65th minute, Jacob Lay held off the defender, who seemed to be tugging his shirt, to chip a sumptuous chip over the onrushing Snedker, but for the retreating Hughes to somehow get back in time to smash the ball up off the underside of the crossbar and back into play. That didn't deter Lay from trying his luck at goal again six minutes later though, again the pacy playmaker exploited space down the centre, although his low powerful strike again went just wide of the bottom left hand corner.
A great chance went begging though for the away side on 73 minutes, a great long ball released Seth Chambers free down the left-hand side of the box, the substitute's clever lifted flick on, over the advancing Snedker, picked out Crane, whose header went agonisingly wide of the gaping left-hand post. That proved to be the penultimate major chance of the afternoon as Kyle Hammond's dangerous swinging left wing free-kick was on target, forcing Snedker to dive up to his top left-hand corner and tip it behind, with two minutes left on the clock.
The resulting corner though picked out Dan Morphew, who couldn't quite get a clean connection to his header, with the ball going over the crossbar.
A day of positives however for Horlock and his team, with Marcus Garnham mostly untroubled in the Needham goal. Needham now move onto a run of four straight home games, beginning with Bromsgrove Sporting next Saturday.
AFC Rushden + Diamonds:
13 Dean Snedker
2 Patrick Casey
3 Courtney Lashley
15 Evan Empochontsif
7 Connor Furlong
20 Miguel Ngwa (75' Sutherland)
11 Nathan Hicks (c)
8 Jesse Akubuine
9 Jenson Cooper (58' Pinto-Leite)
5 Ryan Hughes
10 Jack Connor
12 Eniola Agehoh-Davies
14 Fraser Corden
16 Jack Snelus
18 Tyrese Sutherland
19 Luis Pinto-Leite
1 Marcus Garnham
2 Kyle Hammond
3 Jake Dye
14 Christian Frimpong
5 Keiran Morphew (c)
6 Daniel Morphew
7 Jacob Lay
8 Evan Collard
9 Jamie McGrath (72' Chambers)
10 Patrick Brothers
11 Ross Crane
12 Seth Chambers
15 Hugh Cullum
16 Archie Exworth