NORFOLK SENIOR CUP
Harleston Town 2
Mulbarton Wanderers 0
Harleston manager Adam Gusterson admitted his side owed a debt of gratitude to goalkeeper John Howes after booking their place in the quarter-finals of the Norfolk Senior Cup on Saturday, writes Liam Apicella.
Town won the all-Almary Green Anglian Combination Premier Division tie at the Recreation Ground thanks to first-half goals from Connor Delaney and Scott Roberts, but it was the man between the posts who earned the plaudits.
While he may not be an imposing presence in a physical sense, Howes made a handful of smart saves, including one from the penalty spot as Mulbarton sought a route back into the contest.
“Before we took the job on we watched a game over at Scole and we saw that John was not the biggest. It was a little bit worrying,” said Gusterson.
“But he has been excellent for us from day one. Last season some of his saves were outstanding.
“He may not be the biggest, but he deals with everything cross-wise and his kicking is excellent.
“He has made at least three saves today that he had no right to make, which has quite simply helped us to win the game.”
While Howes was near-on infallible, his opposite number — Tom Wright — will not want to relive Harleston’s opening goal in the 11th minute.
Racing off his line to cut a long pass forward, Wright misjudged the bounce and Nathan Russell pounced.
After cutting in from the byline, the striker squared for Connor Delaney, who took a touch before squeezing his shot in from close range.
Soon after, Howes was called into action to make his first impressive stop as he stood tall to thwart a clean-through Dale Simpson.
Mulbarton, who ended Harleston’s 12-month unbeaten run a fortnight earlier, were always a threat, but it was the hosts that scored again in stoppage-time.
Sam Willis broke free from midfield and picked out Roberts with a low pass. The midfielder’s connection was far from clean, but Wright could not get down in time to save as the ball bobbled in.
It was in the 64th minute when Howes took centre stage once again, after Smith had taken a tumble under a challenge from Gary Starling.
Miles Palmer’s penalty — to Howes’ right — had plenty of power, but the Harleston ‘keeper showed some tremendous spring to push the ball clear.
Six minutes later Howes turned Ben Thompson’s near-post shot behind for a corner, while up the other end Nicky Howell and substitute Kyle Downes were denied by Wright.
There was some late drama when goalscorer Delaney was handed a second yellow card for kicking the ball away, but it did nothing to impact on the final scoreline.
Harleston: Howes, O Willis, Howard, Starling, Imrie, Howell (Hitch 88), S Willis, Page, Roberts (Burke 67), Delaney, Russell (Downes 72)
Express Man of the Match: John Howes
n Gusterson’s men return to league action tomorrow with a trip to Long Stratton (2pm).
n While Harleston march on, Attleborough’s run in the Norfolk Senior Cup was ended at the weekend.
They were defeated 2-1 at home by Norwich CEYMS.
The draw for the last eight of the competition will take place this evening at 6.30pm.