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Harleston Town promoted to Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division for the first time ever with Downham Town win



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Harleston Town have enjoyed some memorable days and nights in recent years, but this afternoon’s play-off final triumph is going to take some beating.

This is a club that could have fallen apart at the seams three years ago when they were demoted from the Thurlow Nunn League First Division back down to the Anglian Combination League due to ground grading issues.

And yet they remained united, returned at the first time of asking and today’s 3-1 home win over Downham Town means next term Harleston will be playing Step 5 football for the first time ever.

The Harleston Town bench celebrates play-off final win over Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison
The Harleston Town bench celebrates play-off final win over Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison

That said, it was far from a straightforward assignment in front of a bumper crowd at Wilderness Lane, where the visitors threatened to spoil the party by breaking the deadlock with just six minutes on the clock.

With so much at stake, perhaps it was some lingering nerves that lead to some hesitation in the Harleston defence and Jacob White nipped in, only to be upended inside the box by home goalkeeper Ross Bilham. It was as clear a penalty as you could hope to see and while Bilham did get a hand on George Watts-Sturrock's spot kick, the shot was too powerful to keep out.

It was now time to see what Harleston were made of and they responded bullishly, forcing Downham deep and winning a number of corners. And it was from one of those – dangerously whipped in by youngster Josh Durham – that they drew level with 15 minutes gone. The tireless Nathan Russell was the scorer, getting ahead of his marker to turn the ball beyond visiting goalkeeper Duncan McAnally.

Harleston Town's Nathan Russell forces the ball in against Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison
Harleston Town's Nathan Russell forces the ball in against Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison

Durham – just 17 years of age – was starting to control proceedings and another of his corners in the 25th minute should have been turned in by Jake Anema, while a cross from Harleston captain Sam Borrer was headed straight into a grateful McAnally's hands by Lawrence Cheese as the hosts started to turn the screw.

Yet, while they spent much of the first half having to defend there was still moments when Downham reminded Harleston of their threat, and in particular Watts-Sturrock, who whistled a couple of free kicks goalwards – one saved by Bilham and the other fizzing just wide.

Harleston remained on the front foot at the start of the second half as Russell shot straight at McAnally under pressure from the retreating defence before a combination of Borrer and Aedan Oliver were unable to turn in Nathan Page's left-wing cross.

Having not made their domination count, Harleston then started to look a little rushed in possession and players that had earlier been so comfortable on the ball started to give it away cheaply. That also saw Downham come more into the game, though they rarely troubled Bilham between Harleston's posts.

Harleston Town's Josh Durham celebrates scoring from a corner against Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison
Harleston Town's Josh Durham celebrates scoring from a corner against Downham Town. Picture: Gary Donnison

Time was ticking away and the prospect of extra-time and penalties started to loom large, but with 10 minutes remaining the second goal that had eluded Harleston for so long finally arrived. Durham's delivery had caused problems all afternoon and so it was somewhat fitting that his corner from the right curled in, with McNally helping the ball on its way into the net.

And two minutes later it was job done as Page, who was Harleston's stand-out player in the second half, cut inside from the left, jinked his way beyond a couple of challenges and then unleashed a low right-footed shot that left McNally rooted to the spot.

The celebrations told you Harleston believed they were now well on their way to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division and so it proved as they saw out the remaining minutes – plus stoppage time – with little fuss.

Harleston: Bilham, Last, Oliver, Cook, Anema, Russell (Manning 84'), Durham, Borrer, Page, Crisp (Swift 71'), Cheese

The Harleston Town players celebrate. Picture: Gary Donnison
The Harleston Town players celebrate. Picture: Gary Donnison

Downham: McAnally, Hutton, Butt (McDermott 73'), Berry, Yates, Oughton, Reed, Watts-Sturrock, Frohawk, Hunt, White (Prentice 56')

Express Man of the Match – Josh Durham and Nathan Page: These two can share the award because they were the stand-out players in each half. Durham defied his young age with a stellar first-half showing before Page caused Downham no end of problems in the second half, capping his performance with a fine goal.



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