Harleston Town book home play-off final against Downham Town with 2-1 scoreline over Framlingham Town
The scoreline may make it look like Harleston Town just edged this Thurlow Nunn League First Division North play-off semi-final against visiting Framlingham Town but in truth it really should have been a more comfortable margin of victory.
A blockbuster opener mid-way through the first half from Aedan Oliver was added to 10 minutes later by Nathan Russell to put the dominant hosts firmly in control.
But a breakaway goal was tucked away smartly by Max Willet in the 37th minute to halve the deficit going into the break.
Despite Harleston continuing to be well on top, even playing against the wind, in the second half they could not find a killer third goal leading to a nervy finish for the home crowd.
Aside from a couple of early stabs at an equaliser, goalkeeper Ross Bilham was a virtual spectator though.
It means they will be hoping for another big crowd – with some 200 thought to be at Harleston Leisure Centre today – next Saturday with Downham Town, who beat visiting Norwich CBS 1-0 in the away dressing room for the final.
Harleston had spent the majority of the season leading the table before an 11-game winning run saw Sheringham pip them to the only automatic promotion place, taking over at the summit with a game to go.
With Framlingham a late arrival into the final play-off spot there was a gaping 24-point chasm between the two sides that kicked off at Wilderness Lane this afternoon, though both standing just 180 minutes of football away from promotion to Step 5.
With veteran striker Nathan Stone serving a suspension due to his red card in last weekend's 7-0 home win over Needham Market Reserves, Nicky Howell made one enforced change with Nathan Russell coming starting.
Framlingham had secured their play-off place with a 1-0 win at Great Yarmouth Town but Liam Abraham's line-up featured three changes. Dan Smith, Dale Pearce and Oliver Mayhew came in for Callum Knights, Nile Francis and George Exworth.
The Magpies, who had a noticeable wind at their backs, put in a dominant first-half display but were unable to turn it into more than a single goal advantage by the interval.
Oliver signalled the hosts' intention with a fierce effort that flew across goal before they called in vain for a penalty as Lawrence Cheese tangled with Simon Poacher.
Ryan Crisp brought the first save of the match in the ninth minute with Edyn Cummings pushing his effort round his right-hand post.
The pressure, amid the strong wind, continued and he could do nothing to stop right-back Oliver's next attempt which arrowed into the top left-hand corner after the ball had broke loose in the penalty area.
Sam Last saw a long-range effort from the left wing clip the top of the crossbar soon after though Cummings had it well covered.
Oliver went close to doubling his own tally and Harleston's in the 32nd minute but saw his powerful effort whistle just wide.
Within a minute it was 2-0 though with Russell rifling home a loose ball in the box after Framlingham were unable to clear a chipped Durham free kick.
The visitors had not troubled Bilham's goal all game but he was picking the ball out of his net in the 37th minute.
A great throughball from Josh Lucraft put Willet inbetween centre-halves Matt Cook and Jake Anema and he took it on well to the edge of the area before cooly slotting into the bottom left-hand corner.
With their tails up following that goal, it was The Castlemen who looked the more likely to score early in the second half with Brett Crisp's header finding the side-netting.
The former Hadleigh United player managed to get the ball into the right side of the net a few minutes later but the 54th minute effort did not stand, having come after the referee had blown for a push in the box.
Good work from Lucraft ended with his shot being blocked a few minutes later but it then became a backs-to-the-wall display which kept them in the game.
Harleston began to rain in efforts on Cummings' goal but Durham, from a cute back heel from Russell put well over before Oliver saw his fierce effort blocked.
Jake Seaber had to hook Ryan Crisp's header off the line in the 71st minute with Jake Anema sending his follow-up header onto the roof of the net.
Nathan Page was then frustrated by two blocks inside the area as the game turned into the final 10 minutes still on a knife-edge.
Page then did all the hard work three minutes from time, cutting back from the touchline before skipping past two challenges to get into the area, before sending a low effort flying just wide of the far post.
Despite a couple of Framlingham forays forward in the five minutes of stoppage time there was to be no late drama which, in truth, would not have been deserved.
Harleston Town: Bilham, Oliver, Last, Cook, Anema, Borrer (c), Durham, Russell (Delaney 83'), R Crisp, Page, Cheese.
Framlingham Town: Cummings, Seaber, O Mayhew (Exworth 81'), Pearse, Poacher, J Mayhew (c), D Smith (Knights 81'), B Crisp (Manning 87'), Willet (Ling 66'), Tysoe, Lucraft.
Attendance: 200 (headcount: 160 paying with around 50 children/U16s).
Diss Express/SuffolkNews Man of the Match: Aedan Oliver (Harleston Town). The right-back epitomised the modern full-back by covering the length of the pitch and his fierce shot proved pivotal in making the breakthrough. The number 18 could have ended with more goals as he continued to be his side's biggest threat. Framlingham's captain James Mayhew was the pick of the bunch for the visitors.