NORFOLK SENIOR CUP
Harleston Town 1
Fakenham Town 1
(Fakenham win 5-4
Losing on spot-kicks is always difficult to stomach, but it is particularly cruel when the prize at the end is final date at Carrow Road, home of Norwich City.
Adam Gusterson and his Harleston players will certainly testify to that after Wednesday evening, when they were beaten on penalties by higher-league Fakenham.
For a while all seemed to be going in the Almary Green Anglian Combination Premier Division side’s favour.
They took a one-goal lead heading into the break and then saw their opponents reduced to ten men early in the second half.
However, Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division outfit Fakenham rallied and after getting themselves level in the 61st minute, they forced the tie into extra-time and beyond.
With so much at stake, the first half at times was a tense affair with neither side wanting to commit a potentially costly error.
But to Harleston’s credit, it was they that looked the brighter in attack, with Nathan Page in the centre of midfield pulling the strings.
He had a shot deflected just over in the 34th minute, while prior to that Scott Roberts had twice gone close with efforts from outside of the area.
Up until that point, the majority of Harleston’s attempts had been speculative, but with their first clear opening of the evening, they went in front.
The clock showed 44 minutes when a Ben Furlong corner caused problems for Fakenham goalkeeper Tom Rix and his defence.
Consequently, the ball skidded across the face of goal towards the back post, where Nathan Russell was lurking to power his shot through a number of bodies and inside the far post.
Buoyed by that goal, Harleston were given what looked to be another advantage in the 53rd minute as Fakenham winger George Abbott was given a second booking.
After bringing down Olly Willis earlier in the game, the number 11 over-run the ball and clattered into Matt Howard, leaving the referee little option but to brandish another yellow and then a red.
Yet, in the face of adversity, The Ghosts dug deep and got themselves on equal terms nine minutes later.
Harleston failed to deal with a ball into their territory and Ashley Jarvis was on hand to bundle the ball home.
Both teams carved out decent openings during the remainder of normal time, the best of which was presented to Harleston’s Nicky Howell in the 71st minute, but he planted his header from six yards out straight at Rix.
In the extra 30 minutes Roberts saw his corner turned against the post, while up the other end there was drama when Harleston goalkeeper David Shannon made three saves in quick succession.
The Fakenham players appealed that at least one of those shots had crossed the line before Shannon intervened, but the match official and his assistant ruled otherwise.
With four minutes left Russell went for the spectacular with an overhead kick, but it flew a couple of yards over the crossbar and so it was to penalties to determine who would meet King’s Lynn in May.
Furlong and Page netted Harleston’s first two kicks from 12 yards, while the Fakenham duo of Kyle Plumb and Joel Glover followed suit.
Roberts then saw his shot turned against the post by Rix, handing the advantage to Fakenham.
Both teams found the net thereafter until Matthew Franks had the chance to win it for Fakenham, only to sky the ball well over the top.
Howell was up first for Harleston in sudden death, with Rix once again coming out on top as he guessed correctly.
This time the responsibility fell to Matthew Gilchrist to send Fakenham through and the full-back made no mistake, much to the delight of the yellows’ faithful, who ran on to the pitch to celebrate with the players.
Harleston Town: Shannon, O Willis (Hitch 66), Burke, S Willis (Delaney 105), Howard, Furlong, Howell (c), Page, Blyth, Roberts, Russell.
Express Man of the Match: Nathan Page.
n Harleston will now turn their attention back to league matters tomorrow when they travel to Caister (2.30pm).
Gusterson’s side are currently in second spot, eight points behind leaders Spixworth with a game in hand.
They beat Caister 7-2 earlier in the season thanks to braces from James Pipe and Roberts, while Russell, Page and Gary Starling were also on target.