Left-back’s hat-trick sees the battle for the league title hot up

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TOUGH TUSSLE: Wayne Proctor battles for the ball with Walsham's hat-trick hero Andrew Cusack.

TOUGH TUSSLE: Wayne Proctor battles for the ball with Walsham's hat-trick hero Andrew Cusack.

Mildenhall Town 0

Walsham-le-Willows 3

Left-back Andrew Cusack was the unlikely hat-trick hero as Walsham-le-Willows moved within two points of table-topping Mildenhall Town.

Cusack’s treble means Walsham, who were almost relegated last season, could go top of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division on Saturday, if they defeat title rivals Wisbech Town and Hall lose at Diss Town (both 3pm).

The Willows’ assistant boss John Taylor described his team’s display as the best of the season so far, while Mildenhall chief Christian Appleford was left seething with his side’s inability to turn up in a top-of-the-table clash for the second time this campaign.

Appleford, whose charges lost 3-0 to Wisbech in similar circumstances last month, said: “If we play like we did against Walsham, there is no way we will stay in the title race.

“We’ve got to compete, and we didn’t do that, so credit to Walsham, who were better than us.”

After a breathless start, in which James Tatham was denied by Josh Pope’s foot at one end and Andrew Wood by Cusack on the line at the other, Walsham struck the opener.

Cusack attempted to fire a free-kick into the right of the goal, but when it came back off the wall he kept his composure to sidefoot it into the net via the inside of the left post.

The Willows continued to press and Tatham slid wide before Tom Agricole’s shot was blocked at point-blank range by Pope.

The second goal arrived on the stroke of half-time, and it was Cusack who was on the mark again after Pope was adjudged to have brought down Ollie Hughes, although Hall protested strongly that the goalkeeper had got the ball.

Cusack fired home the resultant penalty, but was ordered to retake the spot-kick.

Although Pope denied him on the second occasion, the left-back was the first to the ball, just ahead of teammate Tatham, to scramble in the rebound.

Cusack got his third in fortuitous circumstances five minutes after the break when his cross-cum-shot could only be helped into the net by Pope.

Hall tried to respond and James Paterson saw his lobbed effort nodded off the line by Trevor Newman before Andrew Wood headed against the angle of post and bar, but the home side had no answer as Walsham moved within two points of them at the top of the table.

Substitute Will Brown nearly grabbed a fourth, but was denied by Pope’s excellent save.

Walsham assistant manager John Taylor said: “It’s normally always the strikers who get the headlines, so for Andrew to do it is fantastic — he thoroughly deserves the accolades he will get.”

Hall: Pope, Murkin, Coakley (Clark 78), Jones, Harvey, Hitching (Werthmann 59), Thomas (Holder 30), Steed, Proctor, Wood, Paterson. Unused subs: Attwood, Judge.

On Boxing Day, Mildenhall host Ely City (11am).