LEISTON were pushed all the way by Kirkley & Pakefield before booking their place in this season’s Omni Freight Services Suffolk Premier Cup Final.
The Bostik League Premier Division play-off hopefuls beat their Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division opponents 3-1 in Tuesday night’s semi-final tie at Lowestoft Town FC.
However, it needed an injury goal from Christy Finch – his second of the night – to finally kill off a gallant Kirkley side, who had taken the lead through Kyle Haylock after just two minutes.
Although Leiston drew level via Finch three minutes later and were ahead courtesy of Jake Reed after 25 minutes, Kirkley had chances to take the tie to penalties.
Leiston will now face Bury Town in the final at Portman Road, subject to Ipswich Town not being involved in the end-of-season Sky Bet Championship play-offs, on a date to be confirmed in May.
It will be Leiston’s fifth Premier Cup Final when they will be aiming to lift the trophy for the first time in the club’s history, after previously suffering four defeats.
They were stunned after just two minutes when Haylock, who impressed throughout, sent a looping header from the edge of the penalty area over Marcus Garnham and into the net off the inside of the far post from Max Wall’s left-wing cross.
A superb Tom Bullard block two minutes later prevented Liam Harvey-Cooper from possibly doubling Kirkley’s lead, before Leiston drew level, Finch finishing from close range following Joe Marsden’s low cross after he was set free down the right by Jack Ainsley.
The influential Patrick Brothers headed just over the crossbar after a great cross from Seb Dunbar, who was causing problems down the left flank as Leiston started to assert their authority.
Two minutes later, Finch turned provider with a lovely ball in from the left and former Lowestoft Town striker Reed (pictured above, photograph courtesy of Steve Wood) converted from inside the six-yard box.
Adam Rix produced a splendid diving save to his left from Finch’s header following a cross by Brothers, after the Kirkley defence failed to clear from a free-kick.
Kirkley striker Kyle Baker floated a sot just wide from 25 yards and then should have done better after a good run by Liam Harvey-Cooper but miscued his effort wide before the half was out.
Finch fizzed an effort wide soon after the restart, before a great run by Jordan Haverson ended with him sending the ball across the face of the Leiston goal.
Garnham then had to tip a 25-yard drive by Miguel Lopez over the bar as Kirkley, who play two leagues lower, took the game to their opponents.
The Leiston keeper had to smother the ball at the feet of Harvey-Cooper as he tried to go round Garnham and when it was played back across goal, Lewis Hammond’s fierce drive stung his hands.
Kirkley could not find an equaliser and Leiston confirmed their place in the final when Dunbar got away down the left and squared for Finch to tap home into an empty net two minutes into time added on.
Leiston: Marcus Garnham, Joe Marsden (sub Kyle Hammond, 73 mins), Seb Dunbar, Jack Ainsley (sub Kelsey Trotter, 85 mins), Joe Jefford, Tom Bullard, Byron Lawrence, Chris Henderson, Jake Reed, Christy Finch, Patrick Brothers. Unused sub: Harry Knights.
Kirkley & Pakefield: Adam Rix, Matthew Wilson, Max Wall (sub Macauley Holt, 90+1 mins), Lewis Hammond, Jack Herbert, Lewis Flower, Kyle Haylock (sub Dylan Blades, 88 mins), Miguel Lopez, Kyle Baker, Liam Harvey-Cooper, Jordan Haverson (sub Will Lee, 77 mins). Unused sub: Jack Hutchinson.
Referee: George Byrne.