Thurlow Nunn League First Division North title-chasing Harleston Town get the better of neighbouring Diss Town
Harleston Town may have scored four or more goals on 18 occasions this season, but it took just one on Saturday to get the better of neighbouring Diss Town and keep up their pursuit of the Thurlow Nunn League First Division North title.
The league leaders had been in particularly positive form in front of goal heading into the derby, having scored 17 goals in their previous three outings.
But, while Harleston have found the net a total of 113 times in the league – the 10th best record at Step 6 across the entire country – it is these hard-fought 1-0 victories that are just as important if they are to be crowned champions come the end of the campaign.
The advantage remains with Swaffham Town, who after seeing off Felixstowe & Walton United Reserves 3-0 on Tuesday evening are five points adrift of Harleston with two games in hand.
It means that all the men in black and white can do is focus on themselves and their final two fixtures at home against March Town United on April 20, followed by a trip to Cornard United two days later (both 3pm).
Manager Leon Moore said: “It is in Swaffham’s hand, everyone knows that. If they continue their form and win all their remaining games then they will be champions, so we can only concentrate on what we are doing.
“If we win our last two games I would like to think Swaffham are going to find their games against Ipswich Wanderers and their match with Mulbarton very tough.”
And on the slender victory over Diss, who went close to equalising late on with a James Baughurst free-kick that struck the upright, Moore added: “It was a typical derby. We had the better of the chances in the first half although there was not a lot to separate the teams, but luckily enough we came in 1-0 up.
“That held us in good stead for the second half. Credit to Diss because they came out a bit more and we had to ride our luck when they hit the post, but that is the type of performance that helps to win leagues.
“We had to work hard for it and it is pleasing to have come away with a clean sheet. The work rate was great and we managed to shut Diss down.
“Diss are a lot more organised these days and Jon Abbott has got them playing some good stuff so to get the better of them in a match as tight as this one is pleasing.”
The game at Wilderness Lane was just two minutes old when Mark Shadrack’s lofted ball forward put Harleston’s leading goalscorer Nathan Stone in the clear, but Diss goalkeeper Kingsley Barnes was quick off his line to make the stop.
Barnes showed good positioning six minutes later to get behind a Lawrence Cheese header before getting down well to his left to push clear Scott Roberts’ low free-kick in the 24th minute.
The Diss number one was having a pleasing afternoon, yet he is likely to have been disappointed with the manner in which he conceded what turned out to be the winning goal four minutes before the break.
Jake Imrie’s cross from the left was flicked on by Nicky Howell for Cheese, who managed to escape the attention of his marker.
Nevertheless, the angle still appeared to be against the Harleston frontman as he prepared to pull the trigger, but he managed to squeeze his shot under Barnes and inside the near post for his 23rd goal of the campaign.
Clear cut chances at both ends were at a premium in the second half, with defences largely on top of proceedings.
Diss were first to threaten in the 47th minute when Harleston goalkeeper Ian Stones failed to hold Josh Lucraft’s inswinging corner from the right, only for the visitors to have nobody waiting at the back post to accept the gift.
With time running out Baughurst drove his powerful effort from distance straight at Stones, while up the other end substitute Owen Betts – on for the injured Stone – beat Barnes to a loose ball, but his poked effort was prevented from crossing the line by a retreating Sam Last.
Then followed the moment that had Harleston hearts in mouths as Baughurst’s 84th-minute free-kick from 25 yards out left Stones flat-footed, but luckily for the home side his effort cannoned against the post and was cleared to safety.
And that marked the end of the goalscoring opportunities as Harleston held out for the three points they hope has moved them a step closer to securing back-to-back league titles.
Harleston: Stones, Shadrack, Imrie, Roe (Borrer 58), Howard, A Howell (Delaney 73), Russell, N Howell, Cheese, Roberts, Stone (Betts 61)
Diss: Barnes, Baxter, Last, Betson (Hunt 70), Pain, Tipple (Lanchester 85), Hagan, Baughurst, Webb, Lucraft, Bray