Saturday's local football round-up: Haverhill Borough in seventh heaven while Bildeston Rangers and Bacton United 89 book places in Ipswich Town FC final
This time of the season leaves some teams playing for nothing more than pride, while for others cup final places replace points as the goal for the weekend.
With Bury Town not at home this afternoon, that was the case for both Touchline Suffolk & Ipswich League Division 1 promotion rivals Bildeston Rangers and Bury St Edmunds-based Sporting 87 at the Blues' Denny Bros Stadium at Ram Meadow. The prize in the KBB NEFF Suffolk Junior Cup is enhanced by May 14's final being played at Ipswich Town's Portman Road ground again this year.
With both the league meetings between the sides having been tight affairs - ending in one victory apiece - their cup semi-final followed suit in a hard-fought contest with little to separate them over the 90 minutes.
But it will be Bildeston Rangers who are heading to Portman Road for their first ever final appearance in the competition after a second-half header from Charlie Guy, shortly after the hour mark, proved decisive after Sam Sharp's penalty had replied to James Cadby's conversion of a free-kick.
Both goalkeepers played their part in preventing either side having a clear run to the final whistle.
They will play fellow Touchline SIL Division 1 side Bacton United 89, with the team who sit directly below Bildeston in the league table winning 2-0 against Halesworth at Woodbridge Town FC this afternoon.
Nick Knights and Kurtis Goatham were on the scoresheet while goalkeeper Jack Hardy saved a penalty thereafter to preserve a clean sheet.
It ensured Bacton avoided missing out on a Portman Road final in a semi-final for the second year running, having lost last year's final four encounter to Trimley Red Devils.
The side from near Stowmarket will be hoping to add another Suffolk Junior Cup trophy to their cabinet, having beat Oulton Broad in extra-time (3-2) at Colchester United FC in 2016/17.
On the league front, Long Melford were not able to take advantage of newly recrowned Cambridgeshire Invitation Cup winners Ely City not being in action to lift themselves out of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division relegation zone, as they lost 1-0 at home to Kirkley & Pakefield. The only goal of the game at Stoneylands came in the second half.
With Great Yarmouth Town, the side directly above them, losing 3-0 at FC Clacton, it saw a golden chance to overturn both sides' points tally pass Jamie Bradbury's side by, leaving them three games to overturn the two point deficit to ensure they remain in Step 5.
Hadleigh United would not have expected to get much change out of champions Histon at the Glassworld Stadium but a 2-1 defeat, although a respectable scoreline, means they are not yet safe with a six point gap to the bottom two. Their solitary goal came in added time from Romario Dunne.
Momentum is hard to get at times in football but when it arrives it can have quite an impact.
An eye watering 14 straight defeats had left followers of Haverhill Borough fearing for their club's Thurlow Nunn League status in the First Division North, with only a grade grounding issue this time last year having seen them drop to Step 6.
But after ending that miserable run with a 4-2 victory at Suffolk Senior Cup semi-finalists Ipswich Wanderers on Tuesday evening, they guaranteed they can no longer finish in the bottom two by smashing seven goals past bottom side Felixstowe & Walton United Reserves in their home game this afternoon, conceding just one.
Striker Craig Pruden netted a hat-trick while the goal of the day came inside 50 seconds of the start with a lobbed effort from Rory Lee going in from around 35 yards.
With second-bottom Wisbech St Mary losing, it sees Lee Martin's side seven points above the bottom two with those sides only having two games left, while Borough themselves have three to build some more momentum for next season.
At the top of the division, leaders Harleston Town were not in action but saw title and promotion rivals Swaffham Town close the gap to a point, and with a game still in hand, with an emphatic 6-1 win at Ipswich Wanderers.
Over in the First Division South, Halstead Town left it late to register all three points, for back-to-back wins in their quest for promotion as one of the best second-placed teams on a points-per-game table, at May & Baker. But Chris Harris and then Jordan Pavett came up with the goods in quick succession for a 2-0 win.
Up in Step 3, Needham Market continued their upturn in form in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central with a 2-0 win at Barwell making it four games undefeated for Richard Wilkins' men.
Adam Mills and Jamie Griffths, the latter who continued a rich vein of goalscoring form with four in his last five games, were both on target in the first half, while the Marketmen (11th) hit the post twice in the second period.
A level down the pyramid, Bury Town overturned a 1-0 half-time deficit at Great Wakering Rovers to ensure they kept hold of sixth place in the Bostik League North Division with a 2-1 victory.
Ollie Hughes is another forward in great form added to last week's brace in the 2-1 home win over Brentwood Town with a 78th minute equaliser to Hussain Jaffa's 19th minute opener for his 18th goal of the season. The winner itself came from Jake Chambers-Shaw seven minutes before stoppage time.
AFC Sudbury's manager Mark Morsley had gone into today's home game with Romford having told his players their last performance - in a 3-0 home loss to Soham Town Rangers - was unacceptable.
He did not get the response he desired though as they again conceded three times before Liam Bennett pulled a goal back in added time for a 3-1 scoreline to bottom two occupants Romford, with the Yellows now four points adrift of Bury ahead of their A134 derby on Easter Monday (3pm).
Basement dwellers Mildenhall Town need wins to have any hope of staying up, with today's point in a 1-1 draw at mid-table Barking not doing them many favours.
Captain Luke Butcher had fired Hall into the lead in the 16th minute to give the travelling supporters and club officials hope of witnessing only a second victory of this year. But they conceded within six minutes of the second half starting to Ola Ogunwamide, with no further goals scored.
With Witham Town losing, they did reduced the gap to safety to six points but games are now running out, with only a trio left to overturn it.
There are no such worries left for Soham Town Rangers, who secured their Step 4 status last weekend. But they did not have another victory for their home fans to celebrate today with a 2-1 defeat to Basildon United, with Lloyd Groves scoring 11 minutes from time for The Greens.
Elsewhere in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, Stowmarket Town (4th) bounced back from Tuesday's 4-1 defeat at Newmarket with another fine home win; 4-1 against a Haverhill Rovers (11th) side who ended the game with 10 men.
Joe Bennett had fired Rovers into an early lead but Josh Mayhew's header - for his 26th goal of the season - and an own goal gave the Old Gold & Blacks a 2-1 advantage at half-time.
Sam Holmes' red card in the 53rd minute made it a tall order for Rovers to regain their lead and Luke Read and George Quantrell both scored to make it a comfortable scoreline for the hosts.
Newmarket Town (10th) shared a point apiece in a six-goal thriller at Whitton United with Callum Harrison, Lewis Whitehead and a great goal from Max Melanson (see video below) all on target to continue the Jockeys' high-scoring run.
Walsham-le-Willows were reduced to 10 men for more than a half in a 1-0 defeat at Brantham Athletic. Lee Hammond was adjudged to be the last man when he brought an Imps attacker down, with the hosts having already scored what proved to be the only goal of the game.
It sees Brantham leapfrog Walsham who drop two places in the table to seventh.
Friday night's game had seen bottom side Framlingham Town go down to a 4-0 defeat at second-placed Woodbridge Town to leave them eight points from safety with three games remaining. It means their relegation could be confirmed even with a victory in their next match.
Elsewhere in the First Division North, Friday's encounter saw Diss Town (15th) lose 2-1 at home to Norwich CBS, which was the same scoreline Suffolk Senior Cup finalists Cornard United (12th) lost by at Downham Town this afternoon.
Third-from-bottom Needham Market Reserves made it three straight wins with a fine 6-3 victory at home to Wisbech St Mary, but AFC Sudbury Reserves (11th) lost by the same scoreline at March Town United as their winless run stretched to eight matches.
Debenham LC (10th) were one of the sides not in action today.
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* For reaction to the weekend's results and a preview to the week ahead, see next week's print editions.