THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION
Stowmarket Town 2
Halstead Town 1
Rick Andrews heaped praise on his Stowmarket Town side after they booked their place in the club's first final for nine years on Tuesday night.
They came from a goal behind to beat Halstead Town 2-1 at Greens Meadow to reach the Thurlow Nunn League First Division Knockout Cup final.
And after seeing Stow produce their best performance of the season to secure victory for Andrews in his first semi-final in charge, the Town manager expressed his delight on a memorable night.
"I'm so pleased for the club and the supporters," Andrews said. "It has been a long journey and we've got into a final, which is nice.
"I'm more pleased for the players than anything else. This has been the best group I've had in terms of attitude and willingness to fight for each other, and I think we demonstrated that.
"Before we sent them out we said to go and enjoy it. If we go 1-0 down don't panic because we've shown before we can comeback.
"The key for me was when we went 1-0 down how quickly we equalised. It was a great goal and then to go 2-1 up a few minutes later must have been a sickener for them as much as a high for us.
"It was a blood and thunder cup tie and I think for our pure determination and grit we deserved to go through.
"The final has got to go to the back of the mind now though. We've got to start climbing the table.
"The aim is to finish the season as strongly as possible and with the final to look forward to at the end of it, which is an added bonus for us."
Matt Dixon netted his 22nd goal of the season and Dean Pleasance's corner was pushed in by Halstead goalkeeper James Waters, as Stow made a stirring fightback after going a goal behind to a Sam Cripps' 12th minute strike.
The Old Gold and Blacks can look forward to a final with Haverhill Borough on May 6 in a bid to win their first piece of silverware since 2007.
It was an absorbing cup tie from start to finish, with Stow playing in their first semi-final for five years and Halstead looking to reach the Knockout Cup final for the fourth time.
Andrews made one change from the side that beat Woodbridge Town 1-0 on Saturday, as Remell Davis was recalled to the starting line-up in place of the absent Ben Licence.
Stow had won their last two meetings against the visitors, but it was Halstead who came into the semi-final clash in good form, having won their last four games to sit fifth in the First Division table.
After Davis saw his early shot go wide of the target, Joe O'Hare stabbed an effort narrowly wide at the other end in a lively opening 10 minutes.
The frenetic start continued as the deadlock was broken on 12 minutes. Cripps ran through on goal and made no mistake in finishing past Stow goalkeeper Dan Joyce to give Halstead the lead.
Their advantage would crucially only last for barely a minute though, as Stowmarket recovered quickly and equalised when Davis showed great vision to pick out the run of Dixon racing towards the near post.
The Stow captain, who was the home side's answer to Harry Kane as he wore a protective mask after fracturing his cheek while in action last month, applied the finishing touches to make it 1-1.
And three minutes later Andrews' men were celebrating again when Halstead keeper Waters got the final touch on the ball as Pleasance's corner sailed into the net.
Stow looked to increase their lead before the break, with James Graham, and then Dixon, seeing efforts go wide of the target. While at the other end, Halstead were unable to carve out any clear chances and went into the break trailing their hosts 2-1.
Moments after the restart Ace Howell brought out a good save from Halstead's Waters, before the visitors began to increase the pressure on the Stowmarket defence as Cripps had two shots go off target.
Howell looked to break his duck for his new club when he tried to chip Waters from outside the box, with his attempt going wide on 66 minutes.
The Humbugs then searched desperately for an equaliser, but Joyce and the home defence stood firm.
The AFC Sudbury loanee commanded his area well as he came out to punch away a Marcus Warren free-kick in the 77th minute, before O'Hare's strike was comfortably saved by the Stow goalkeeper on 83 minutes.
Stowmarket maintained their work rate and continued to frustrate the visitors as the match entered added time.
Andrews' men avoided a late equaliser to secure their place in the Knockout Cup final, where they will play Haverhill Borough, who beat March Town Unted 3-0 in the night's other semi-final.
Stowmarket Town: Joyce, B Holmes, Pleasance, Folkes, Graham, Seccombe, Hawkins (A Holmes 57), Moore, Howell, Dixon (Breadman 85), Davis. Sub not used: Cuddy.
Free Press man on the match: Graham.
n Needham Market lost Tuesday’s Suffolk Premier Cup semi-final with Leiston 1-0 after drawing 2-2 at Leatherhead on Saturday.