George Sturrock-Watts puts Downham ahead from the spot at Harleston.Pictures: ANGIE SHARPE.

FOOTBALL: A depleted Downham Town were left wondering ‘what if?’ at Harleston Town on Saturday.

A place in the Premier Division of the Thurlow Nunn League was the prize for a winner-take-all encounter in the Division One North play-off final but, without talismatic top scorer Joe Jackson, they fell agonisingly short.

Downham were also without second highest scorer Simon Bird, goal provider Amon Kutsirayi and Barry McWilliam, so faced an uphill task before they even set foot on the South Norfolk pitch.

However, they were not dispirited and gave the hosts an early shock when George Sturrock-Watts opened the scoring from the spot after home goalkeeper Ross Bilham had upended Jacob White in the sixth minute.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Downham, who were backed by a large contingent of fans.

The home side were level after 15 minutes when Josh Durham, just 17, whipped in a corner and Nathan Russell turned the ball past Duncan McAnally in the Downham net.

Watts-Sturrock came close to restoring the Downham advantage with two free-kicks but extra-time and penalties loomed as the teams went into the last 10 minutes still level.

However, it was the home team who stepped up the pace to score twice to secure their spot at the higher level.

Durham’s tricky inswinging corner was helped into the net by McAnally in the 80th minute and two minutes later Nathan Page confirmed a home victory with a stunning third goal. 

Downham co-manager Dale Stokes admitted the loss of key players had not helped his team but acknowledged the best side had won on the day.

“It certainly didn’t help that we were without some key players at both ends of the pitch,” he said. “Most teams would struggle without their top goalscorers but as managers we can’t fault the boys for their efforts on the day.

“When you look at the bigger picture, what we’ve achieved and what we are up against, everyone should be proud of themselves. It’s just difficult to accept that as manager when you’ve lost such an important game. Success in my eyes was promotion, not getting to a play-off final.”