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Downham Town look to clinch promotion against Harleston Town

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Managers Craig Dickson and Dale Stokes will be hoping it is going to be a case of third time lucky as Downham Town look to finally clinch promotion this weekend.

Just 90 minutes stand between them and a place in the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division for the first time in the club’s history as the team travel to Harleston Town for the First Division North play-off final.

And after two near misses due to Covid-hit seasons, the Memorial Field outfit are out to seal the deal against the side who finished second in the league table.

Downham's management duo, Craig Dickson and Dale Stokes on the sidelines.. (50899122)
Downham's management duo, Craig Dickson and Dale Stokes on the sidelines.. (50899122)

With four promotion places up for grabs, Downham – sitting third in the standings at the time – looked set to go up back in 2019/20 until Covid struck and the FA decided that all non-league divisions from step three and below would be terminated.

The following campaign saw the club well placed again with a handful of games remaining, but this time they were denied on a points-per-game basis as the season was again curtailed early.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s final, joint boss Stokes said: “If you look back at the past few seasons, if there’s anyone who deserves to go up then it is us.

“It has been hard to take and because of what happened we have twice been forced to rebuild our squad with players leaving.

“We’re punching above our weight in terms of resources and facilities so if we can go on and complete the job it would be a massive achievement by everyone considering what we’ve been up against.”

Stokes is under no illusions about the task facing his side who lost 1-0 in the home league meeting between the two sides after drawing 2-2 in the reverse fixture.

“They’re a good side and are full of players who have played at step 4 and step 5,” he said.

“Harleston and ourselves have the best defensive records in the league so it’ll be down to who takes their chances on the day. Last time we went there we conceded after about 30 seconds so we don’t want that to happen again.

“It’s their game to lose, but we know that we are more than capable of beating anyone on our day.”

Goalkeeper Duncan McAnally was the hero in Downham’s semi-final victory over Norwich CBS with a late penalty save and Stokes admitted that a victory on Saturday would be he icing on the cake for players like him.

“The penalty save he made ultimately won us the game,” said Stokes.

“He’s a great lad and a good friend. He has been really loyal since coming to play for the club and winning would mean so much to people like him.”

Harleston boss Nicky Howell knows that Downham will be a tough nut to crack.

“They’re a well organised side and they’re probably the best team we have come across in terms of shape,” he told the Diss Express.

“They don’t concede many goals and are tough to breakdown – a bit like we are.

“In that 2-2 game we conceded a couple of sloppy goals when maybe we thought the game was won – you can’t afford to do that.

“Those two goals might have ended up costing us the league so in that sense perhaps we feel we owe them a little bit.

“They’ve not been able to beat us this year and psychologically that might mean something, but this is a one-off, winner-takes-all game and anything can happen.”

There will be extra-time and penalties on Saturday, if needed to settle the tie.

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