‘Statement’ win for tangerines: Diss boss says his side have set the standard after recovering from an early setback to beat neighbours in the third round of the Norfolk Senior Cup
Manager Jason Cook has challenged his Diss Town players to use Saturday’s ‘statement’ 3-2 win over neighbours Harleston Town to kickstart what has been a faltering season to date.
Although hosting Harleston were beaten last time out by Swaffham Town, Adam Gusterson’s men had been in imperious form since their summer promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League First Division North.
Prior to the Swaffham loss, Harleston had won 16 out of 17 games and were firm favourites heading into the weekend’s Norfolk Senior Cup third-round tie.
As for the visiting Tangerines, pre-season optimism had quickly made way for frustration and disappointment, with Cook’s charges having amassed just 13 points from the first 42 on offer.
And yet against their high-flying hosts they produced the type of performance Cook had been yearning for, recovering from an early setback to open up a 3-1 lead before weathering a late storm to seal their place in the quarter-finals of the competition, as well as inflicting first back-to-back defeats on Harleston since October 2015.
Now, as far as their manager is concerned, the standard has been set ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Haverhill Borough (3pm).
“It has been a really frustrating spell and we only have ourselves to blame,” said Cook.
“We have shipped too many goals at times and also not been scoring enough, certainly in recent weeks.
“I honestly believe we have one of the best sides in the league on paper, but that does not win you games of football.
“We beat Wisbech St Mary recently and with the greatest of respect we should be beating sides like those.
“Harleston are a very good side and it is no fluke where they are in the league, but we have deservedly beaten them– it is a statement win.
“We cannot have any excuses any more. We need to start putting the points on the board to move us towards the sort of league position we should be in.”
Having had their unbeaten run ended in their previous fixture, Harleston looked like a side with a point to prove during the opening exchanges.
Fantastic reflexes from Jake Hayhoe turned Nathan Stone’s fourth-minute piledriver against the crossbar, while two minutes later the Diss goalkeeper was called into action again, this time to turn away a Jake Imrie free-kick.
The Harleston pressure continued and so it was little surprise when they broke the deadlock in the seventh minute.
Diss failed to fully clear Scott Roberts’ left-wing corner and when the ball was turned back into the area by Imrie, an unmarked Lawrence Cheese was on hand to sweep the ball home from close range.
At this point Harleston appeared to be rampant, but within 60 seconds the whole complexion of the tie was altered by a moment that young Harleston goalkeeper Brandon Ling will want to forget.
It did not seem Harry Moore’s hopeful cross from the left was going to cause any issues, but Ling’s attempted catch squirmed through his hands, struck the crossbar and provided lurking Diss striker Virgilio Leitao with a gift.
The Diss goalscorer ended up being a thorn in the Harleston side for much of the afternoon and he went close to a second goal in the 28th minute, pouncing on a slip from Mark Shadrack before dragging his shot wide of the near post.
However, Leitao was not to be denied five minutes later as the away side edged in front.
Ling came out to the edge of his box to meet a long clearance from his opposite number Hayhoe, but under pressure from Leitao, he dropped the ball.
Harleston boss Gusterson said after the final whistle he felt his goalkeeper had been fouled, but the referee was not in agreement and Diss’ number nine duly rolled in.
Sam Borrer – leaning back – wasted a good chance for Harleston to draw level at the start of the second half and it proved costly in the 50th minute when Diss stretched their lead.
Recent arrival from Great Yarmouth Town Kieran Hagan showed good footwork on the edge of the box before bending a left-footed shot inside the far post.
Not content with a two-goal advantage, Diss continued to pour forward with Leitao twice going close to completing his hat-trick.
His first effort from distance cannoned against the crossbar, while his second was well saved by Ling.
By this point Gusterson had seen enough and rung the changes, both in terms of personnel and tactics, switching to a 4-4-2 formation.
It paid off 20 minutes from time when Roberts took a pass from Stone in his stride, drew Hayhoe off his line and squared for Cheese to tap in.
Harleston dominated possession thereafter, but they struggled to breach a defence that was well marshalled by the experienced Ricky Cornish.
And, on the odd occasion they did find a way through, Hayhoe was on hand to ensure that the three-time winners advanced through.
Harleston: Ling, Russell, Imrie, Roe, Anema, Shadrack (Howell 83), Roberts, Borrer, Cheese, Baker (Delaney 62), Stone
Diss: Hayhoe, White, Last, Pain, Cornish, Moore, Hagan, Vincent, Leitao, Nogueira (Colclough 72), Betson
Express Man of the Match – Paul Betson: Harsh on Leitao because of his two goals, but Betson’s performance in midfield was crucial, particularly late on as Harleston pressed