Boss full of praise for double-winning Harleston
HADLEY & OTTAWAY
MUMMERY CUP FINAL
Harleston Town 3
What a difference 12 months makes in football.
This time last year Harleston Town were still smarting from losing the Anglian Combination Premier Division title to Spixworth on a dramatic winner-takes-all final day of the season.
But, fast-forward to Tuesday night at the Football Development Centre in Bowthorpe, where already crowned champions Harleston were celebrating the completion of a league-and-cup double — the mood could not have been more different.
In truth, Adam Gusterson’s men secured the Mummery Cup during the opening 45 minutes against Division One outfit Sheringham, who could not contend with the speed in which their higher-league opponents moved the ball in the final third.
Scott Roberts — wearing the number 10 shirt — was the Harleston lynchpin as he netted two goals inside the opening 16 minutes, before Lawrence Cheese headed home a third goal just before the break.
To Sheringham’s credit they stuck to their task in the second half and pulled back a deserved goal, but the damage had long been done.
“We set out to win the league this season after pushing Spixworth so close last year,” said Gusterson.
“So, to win this cup as well has made it a fantastic season. Winning the double might sound easy, but it is anything but that.
“It has been really tough. Until tonight, every round we have played teams in the Premier Division.
“The consistency and the ability that the lads have shown to perform under pressure this season has been outstanding.
“Teams do look at us as the strongest side and they all want to beat us — it is seen as a feather in their cap.
“We have dealt with that pressure for the last two years in fairness, but this time I feel that the players we have got in and the characters we have has made the difference.”
One of the players that has been key to Harleston’s success this term is attack-minded midfielder Roberts.
He scored the goal that sealed the title on April 28 away at second-placed Mulbarton Wanderers and it took him just shy of two minutes to break the deadlock against Sheringham.
As he lined up a free-kick 30 yards from goal it seemed a cross into the box would be incoming, only for Roberts to shoot and catch out Chris Bird in the Sheringham goal.
The former Dereham Town man continued to dictate proceedings, spraying passes out to either flank with consumate ease.
And he was soon back on the goal trail in the 16th minute, firing into the top corner after exchanging passes with Nathan Stone at a corner.
The pressure continued and Harleston’s third goal — the one that essentially ended the tie as a contest — arrived four minutes before the interval.
Connor Delaney kept the ball in play down at the left-hand touchline, from where he pulled the ball back for an onrushing Jake Imrie.
The left-back wasted no time in floating a cross towards the back post for an unmarked Cheese to routinely head home.
At this point the easy thing for Sheringham to do would have been to wave the white flag, but they rallied in the second half and after Tim Cary’s acrobatic effort drifted wide their perseverance was rewarded with a goal in the 62nd minute.
Jamie Nelson was the scorer as the centre-forward saw his low effort from the edge of the box nestle in the bottom corner after a deflection had left Harleston goalkeeper Nathan Pauling helpless.
Two minutes later, Harleston really should have been celebrating a fourth goal but first Roberts’ clever chipped effort hit the underside of the crossbar, before Ryan Fuller saw his rebounded header suffer the same fate.
And there was more frustration for Fuller in the 70th minute when he rolled in Olly Willis’ low cross, only for the referee’s assistant to flag the substitute offside — though it did appear that the pass to the striker had been played backwards and therefore the goal should have stood.
It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, though, as Harleston saw out the minutes that remained to secure a historic double ahead of their likely step up to the Thurlow Nunn League First Division.
The result also marked the perfect way for centre-back Marc Pearce to bow out after a 14-year association with the club.
The long-serving 31-year-old said: “It is a commitment issue really. If I cannot give it my all then I know I should walk away.
“I want to spend a bit more time with my family.
“It is a great way to go out — to win the double with my hometown club is amazing.
“These guys will do really well in the Thurlow Nunn.”
Harleston: Pauling, O Willis, Imrie, S Willis, Pearce, Howard, Delaney (Howell 70), Page, Cheese (Fuller 60), Roberts, Stone
Express Man of the Match: Roberts. Att: 348