Harleston shrug off Catfield comeback to earn Norfolk Junior Cup final place at Carrow Road
Harleston Town 5 Catfield 4
Harleston are through to the Norfolk Junior Cup final at Carrow Road after putting in a scintillating performance on Saturday to beat a much-fancied Catfield side in front of the biggest crowd the REC had seen in many, many years, with over 200 people braving the conditions.
Town suffered heartbreak at the same stage of the competition last season, losing out to a talented UEA side.
Paul Bliss set the tone of the game by aggressively winning the first header, which was immediately followed up by Andrew Bicker putting his body on the line by flying into a 50/50 challenge and emerging with the ball.
The scene had been set and within five minutes Town were off to a dream start. Ryan London's well directed ball into the box was met with a superb knock down by Bliss into the path of frontman Hadlee Wright who showed great feet to wrong-foot the defender and slot the ball calmly past the keeper into the bottom corner to give Town the lead.
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With just over 10 minutes gone another Town attack led to a corner which Goodwin Wright superbly floated to the back post for the unmarked Imrie to climb remarkably high to power a header into the net to double Town's advantage.
The visitors looked to hit back instantly but Shannon in the Town goal made a fine save. In truth it was Town who looked the most likely to score again and did so when Goodwin Wright's cross from the right found Trudgill in space. His first effort was well blocked but the ball rebounded straight back to him and he volleyed into the opposite bottom corner from 12 yards, wrong-footing the stranded keeper, making the score 3-0 after just 20 minutes played - a dream start for Town.
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Unfortunately Harleston were now forced into a change with Bicker going off injured to be replaced by Norman, which meant West switching to left back. Catfield did pull a goal back when a hopeful long ball was meant to be headed across goal by their forward but managed to elude everyone and nestle in the bottom corner. The visitors' tails were now up and Shannon had to be alert to make another fine save.
Town continued to look dangerous every time they went forward, another corner was won which Goodwin Wright again delivered superbly, this time it was met by skipper London, whose shot on the turn found the bottom corner to make it 4-1.
Amazingly, Catfield still did not seem interested in marking Town at corners and 4-1 soon became 5-1 when Goodwin Wright's pinpoint corner was expertly side-foot volleyed home by David Norman. At this point, it looked like Town could go on and get a hatful but Catfield soon showed the quality of which they were capable of by producing their best move of the game which resulted in Bliss pulling his man back in the area for a penalty which was duly despatched on the stroke of half time, giving them an important lifeline.
Harleston knew they would have to weather the storm second half and were hoping to keep it tight for the opening stages. However, that plan was blown apart when within minutes of the restart Catfield scored when a player headed home after being left unmarked from a corner.
It really was game on again now, with the rain smashing down, the pitch becoming heavy and the visitors with the momentum, Town now had to dig deep to show real character, which they did in abundance. The front men were working their socks off, whilst Passey in the middle of the park was immense, giving the Catfield players no time on the ball to play.
When the ball did get as far as the forwards they found the Town backline in bullish mood. The game was now becoming scrappy and the visitors were beginning to get frustrated and a string of bad tackles were made and yellow cards were dealt out.
Shannon was alert to make another great goal line save and at the other end Trudgill couldn't find the killer ball after bursting through and West was unlucky to see his corner tipped over the bar. Time was now running out for Catfield but they were gifted a goal with just under five minutes to go when confusion between Pearce and Shannon allowed their player to pick up the lose ball and score. It was backs-to-the-walls stuff for the final two minutes and Harleston hearts were in mouths when it looked like the ref had awarded a penalty in the final minute, only for the decision to actually be a free-kick outside the box, much to the aggravation of the animated Catfield bench.
When the resultant free kick came to nothing the final whistle was blown which sparked jubilant scenes at the Rec as Town celebrated an historic victory. Town will now face last seasons beaten finalists Reffley Royals, in the final at Carrow Road on Tuesday, May 15.
JD Young MoM: Ryan London – A difficult one to pick as every player was simply superb, but one man just shaded it in my opinion and that was the skipper who was colossal at the back, rising to the big occasion and putting in a true captains performance.