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Harleston Town manager Nicky Howell pleased with way players handled play-off occasion against Framlingham Town



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It could and should have been a more comfortable margin of victory but it was the solidity of his Harleston Town side's display in their 2-1 play-off semi-final win over Framlingham Town that left boss Nicky Howell delighted.

The Magpies had to pick themselves up from missing out on the Thurlow Nunn League First Division North title on the final day to Sheringham to keep their Step 5 promotion dream alive at the weekend.

And they duly delivered in front of an estimated crowd of 200 at their Wilderness Lane base with a blockbuster opener mid-way through the first half from Aedan Oliver added to 10 minutes later by Nathan Russell.

Harleston players celebrate Aedan Oliver (red boots) opening the scoring in their play-off semi-final with Framlingham Town Picture: Mark Bullimore
Harleston players celebrate Aedan Oliver (red boots) opening the scoring in their play-off semi-final with Framlingham Town Picture: Mark Bullimore

It was no less than their superiority deserved but there was then a real test of character when a breakaway goal came from the Castlemen's first sight of goal to halve the deficit going into the interval.

Despite a couple of early nervy moments in the second half, the rest of the action focused around Framlingham's penalty area with the non-arrival of a third killer goal leaving manager Howell and the home fans less relaxed than they should have felt.

"I just said to the lads in there 2-1 is a close scoreline but I think we had large parts of the game and no disrespect to them, I thought we were fairly comfortable at times," said Howell, who later learned they will host Downham Town, 1-0 winners at home to Norwich CBS at home in Saturday's play-off final (3pm).

"I expected them to push on near the end but it never really came but I think that was more because we were in control of the game and managing things well.

"A third would have been nice for us especially for us on the side when it's tight as you get a bit nervous towards the end but we were pushing and the longer the game went on (I'm sure) we would have got a third.

"What is the most pleasing is we were solid at the back. We weren't giving any chances away so while we were attacking we were still nice and solid.

"These are always really tight games with a lot riding on it so we've handled it well so I'm really pleased."

Harleston Town players celebrate Nathan Russell's second goal on Saturday Picture: Mark Bullimore
Harleston Town players celebrate Nathan Russell's second goal on Saturday Picture: Mark Bullimore

Right-back Oliver put in a man-of-the-match display which included a powerful opener shooting across goal into the top of the net for his fourth of the season.

"Aedan Oliver has done that a couple of times this season," said Howell.

"He's really come on the second half of the year and we're really pleased for him.

Aedan Oliver, taking on Framlingham's Simon Poacher, opened the scoring with a thunderous strike midway through the first half Picture: Mark Bullimore
Aedan Oliver, taking on Framlingham's Simon Poacher, opened the scoring with a thunderous strike midway through the first half Picture: Mark Bullimore

"He signed for us over the summer from Aylsham so he's made a step up a couple of leagues and he's been really good."

Not knowing at the time what the result was at Downham, he was confident they could be more than a match for eight at The Rec this weekend to confirm their place as a Premier Division club next season with back-to-back promotions.

Framlingham Town manager Liam Abraham addresses his players after the final whistle at Harleston Picture: Mark Bullimore
Framlingham Town manager Liam Abraham addresses his players after the final whistle at Harleston Picture: Mark Bullimore

"We are quietly confident whoever we get," he said.

"Obviously we finished highly in the league, we got a lot of points on the board so we are quite confident whoever we play and we'll go again on Saturday."

Meanwhile, Framlingham boss Liam Abraham conceded his side did not have the legs in the end to get themselves back into the tie.

"I thought we just ran out of a bit of steam (in the) second half," he said.

"We came out after half-time and gave it a real good go but the longer the match went on it was clear we were just running out of a bit of energy and didn't quite get a second wind like I wanted us to towards the end."

He also admitted their plans for the game had been blown apart with the way Harleston imposed themselves on them early on, aided by a strong wind.

He said: "To be fair our game plan was we wanted to try and look after the ball and get on it.

"We probably didn't have enough of what we wanted first half but the conditions were tough first half and I thought we did alright. The keeper made a few saves. The second goal was a bit of a disappointing one to let in but I thought it was a good game of football."

But once the dust has settled he said they would reflect with pride on the way they had handled all three games against a side that actually finished 24 points ahead of them in the table.

"I agree," he said, "they're a top quality team and we know that. The league table doesn't lie but we've played them three times now and beat them once and lost two here by just one goal."

Reflecting on their season, he said it was definitely one that had to be viewed in two parts.

He said: "I'd say the start of the season we started real slow, we had a lot of players in and out and a lot of inconsistency.

"Second half of the season has been brilliant. Look at the form table and we're third in it all the way from about February onwards. So it was a season of two halves; unfortunately we didn't quite do it earlier in the season but a good end to it."

He added: "I told the lads on the pitch at the end we've just got to crack on for next year now and put it right."



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