NORFOLK FA SENIOR CUP: Harleston Town 2 Great Yarmouth Town 1
To define Harleston Town’s exploits in knocking Great Yarmouth Town out of the Norfolk FA Senior Cup as a giant killing would be doing Adam Gusterson’s side a disservice.
After all, the manager has built a squad at The Rec Ground full of quality and big-game experience — many of them, Gusterson included, have previously won this particular competition in Dereham Town colours for example.
Nevertheless, Harleston are still a team that ply their trade in the Almary Green Anglian Combination Premier Division, while Saturday’s visitors Yarmouth have made a strong start to life two steps higher up the pyramid in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.
And on top of that, the hosts were heading out of the competition until the 88th minute when Nicky Howell equalised and then substitute Kyle Downes fired in a dramatic winner 10 minutes into stoppage time.
Much of the early running was made by the visiting Bloaters, with Sean Perfect working John Howes in the Harleston goal with a free-kick that took a deflection off the wall.
Yarmouth’s Sam Applegate flashed a shot wide from the edge of the area soon after, before Perfect struck the post in the 15th minute with a shot that left Howes flat footed.
Harleston’s first meaningful attempt was created in the 20th minute and Scott Roberts will probably feel that he should have done better after he had been picked out by Nathan Page — the lively midfielder shot well over.
James Pipe went much closer after 30 minutes following good work by Nathan Russell, but his attempt was a decent height for Jack Whatmough and the Yarmouth goalkeeper pushed the ball to safety.
While their start to the tie may have slightly been on the tentative side, there was much more purpose about Harleston in the second half.
A swift counter-attack in the 47th minute saw playmaker Roberts fashion a chance for Jake Imrie, but Whatmough read the full-back’s intention and saved well.
Russell then scuffed a half-volley from Howes’ long punt forward, with Roberts seeing his grass-cutter turned behind by Whatmough.
That pressure meant there was an element of surprise when Yarmouth broke the deadlock after 63 minutes.
Mitch Forbes — the away team’s leading goalscorer this term — had only been on the pitch 10 minutes, yet the substitute showed no sign of rustiness as he clinically powered the ball home after the Harleston rearguard had failed to clear Kyle Howell’s long throw.
Now with little option but to go for broke, Harleston committed more men forward, with Downes — a scorer when Dereham beat King’s Lynn in the final five years ago — entering the fray.
But for all of their attacking intent, it seemed as though it was going to be one of those afternoons for the underdogs.
Nicky Howell was denied by Whatmough, while Downes’ goalbound header was cleared off the line by an alert Nick Bailey.
And when Matt Howard headed over in the 84th minute, it appeared that Harleston’s interest in this season’s tournament was over.
However, there was two minutes of normal time left when Roberts hoisted high into the Yarmouth box. After a brief period of pinball, the Harleston duo of Howard and Russell linked to free up Howell and the skipper made no mistake from close range.
Harleston midfielder Neil Renaut had earlier suffered a serious-looking knee injury and so with his treatment in mind, it was inevitable that the referee would play a healthy amount of stoppage time.
Yet, to the surprise of both benches and everyone in attendance, the man with the whistle added an extra 12 minutes and it was in the 10th of those that Harleston sent themselves into the last 16.
Nicky Howell picked up possession wide on the right and proceeded to advance, weaving his way across the pitch and towards the Yarmouth area.
His run was eventually halted, but the ball was smartly worked to Downes and with Whatmough racing off his line in a desperate bid to narrow the angle, the centre-forward arrowed his shot into the bottom corner.
Harleston: Howes, O Willis, Imrie, Renaut (S Willis), Furlong, Howard, Page, Roberts, Pipe (Downes 62), Russell, Howell
Express Man of the Match: Scott Roberts - There were a number of candidates, but the creative midfielder just edges it. While not all of his passes came off, he remained positive throughout and produced a number of dangerous deliveries from the centre of the pitch.