Big win secures Harleston Town the First Division Knockout Cup after missing out on title
It did not quite turn into the dream ending to their first campaign in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division North for Harleston Town, but becoming league cup champions certainly takes the edge off, according to manager Leon Moore.
They claimed the First Division Knockout Cup in the final at Woodbridge Town, as they outclassed their South Division opposition Holland FC by a considerable margin in the 6-0 victory.
Moore described the team’s performance as ‘phenomenal’ as it wrapped up their first season at Step 6 with a trophy.
But the side that spent so much of this season at the top of the First Division North – scoring an unparalleled 123 league goals, and 146 goals in all competitions – had to then sit and watch as Swaffham Town claimed the league title on Saturday, beating basement side Felixstowe & Walton Reserves 3-0 on the road.
The result saw Harleston end up in second place, just one point adrift of the champions, with only one team due to be promoted to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.
But Moore said: “Runners-up is still a fantastic achievement. When Harleston entered this league last year, I don’t think many thought we’d be anywhere near here come the end of the season.
“I mean, we took it to the last game of the season to decide the league title and that’s a great achievement. I said to the lads after the Cornard game, if someone would have said to you ‘will you take second place at the end of the season?’ they’d have put their hands up and quite rightly so.
“The club and the squad that have been assembled here have done really well to go on and win a cup and come second in the league in the first time of trying.”
The Knockout Cup final saw Harleston and Holland face each other for the first time ever in competition and, on paper, looked competitive with Holland having eliminated North Division champions Swaffham and Harleston having dispatched South Division champions Hashtag United in the semi-finals.
And that’s how it began, with both teams finding time to settle into the game – with neither keeper tested for at least 15 minutes.
But Harleston became increasingly dominant and Lawrence Cheese began causing the Holland defence problems, hitting the post from a corner after 25 minutes as a goal began to feel inevitable.
It came in the 29th minute, Nathan Stone getting a touch on a goalbound Scott Roberts’ free-kick to break the deadlock.
The floodgates threatened to open for Harleston, as they scored a second two minutes later, Sam Borrer chipping it in for a 2-0 lead.
Harleston’s third goal came in the 40th minute, Nick Howell scoring after a cross in from Stone, before captain Matt Howard scored a header for a 4-0 lead at the break.
Harleston came out in the second half and kept pushing forward but it took until the 72nd minute for the side to find another goal, Owen Betts converting from a great cross in by Cheese.
Betts then wrapped up the win with a sixth goal, and his second, one minute from time, after Charlie Roe beat three Holland players before laying it off to Betts who finished well.
Moore said: “It was just a phenomenal performance really. The first 20 minutes was a typical cup final performance, it was scrappy and no-one really got on top of the game.
“But once we broke that line and got the first goal, we were just relentless for the rest of the half. To go in four goals up at half-time in a cup final is what you hope for, it’s the perfect half – in fact, it’s almost too easy to throw it away from there if you think the job is done.
“I told them ‘you can’t drop your levels, you just can’t drop your performance levels, you’ve got to carry on and take it into the second half’. And they did that. They came out with a great professional attitude in the second half and just carried on where they left off.
“There were a few nerves before the game, it’s natural, it was a cup final, but I think they dealt with the nerves well - and I think the first goal also did a lot to settle those nerves.
“And the team just played superbly, as did the opposition, credit to all of them.”
Harleston: Ling, Delaney (Anema 54’), Imrie, Borrer, Howard (c), Shadrack, Russell, Howell (Roe 69’), Cheese, Roberts, Stone (Betts 61’). Unused subs: Pickess, Philpott
Express Man of the Match – Lawrence Cheese: Unfortunate not to cap off his top performance with a goal, but was key to sparking his side’s attacking mindset