Mason Rubie sets Wakefield AFC on way to big victory against leaders Wombwell Town
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Town, newly promoted this season – but not to be underestimated despite their rookie status – have been the early pace-setters this year with only two defeats in 17 matches prior to this fixture, writes Austin Ainsworth.
Wakefield, having experienced a dent to their own ambitions of a title charge after a shaky run of results in September, had overcome a raft of injuries and suspensions to turn things around; unbeaten so far in October and back up to third in the league, this game offered the perfect opportunity to close the seven-point gap to Wombwell and prove to everyone, including themselves, that a title challenge is still a realistic prospect this season.
New signing Jack Cairney walked straight into the side to start alongside Jack Durkin in the centre of defence, while the midfield three of Nathan Hawkhead, Jaydan Sandhu and Cameron Barnett all kept their places after excelling in the recent win over Swallownest.
Oliver Rodriguez made his first start in nearly a month, as Sebastian Losa was the latest winger to try his hand at being a striker in the absence of Jake Morrison.
Understandably, the start to the game was cagey as both teams tried to work each other out. Wombwell looked to get the ball forward quickly and loaded the box, but in truth were given no other tactical options thanks to the tireless and systematic pressing of Wakefield.
The home side, as they always are, were more patient in possession and dominated in that aspect from the start, but were also able to spring quick attacks through the vision of Hawkhead at the base of midfield, who switched play with ease, using the pace of Rodriguez and Mason Rubie on the wings.
Wombwell’s best, and only clear-cut, chance came on the half-hour mark when a long throw was flicked on down the left side and worked well in a tight area for Bradley Kerr to muscle in and fire a shot that rattled the crossbar.
For a side that had averaged nearly three goals a game this season, the fact that was as close as Wombwell got to truly threatening Wakefield in the game was a credit to the hosts’ complete superiority both on, and off, the ball.
Wakefield started to see the rewards for their performance as the half wore on and the chances started to come, with Rodriguez going close from a pinpoint free-kick in the 33rd minute that was heading for the top corner before Wombwell keeper Jonathan Davis stretched to tip the ball wide.
Rodriguez was again involved when the breakthrough eventually came just before half-time. Wakefield, as they had done throughout the half with the new, physically imposing centre-back partnership of Cairney and Durkin, cleared a corner well and the ball fell to Rodriguez on the right.
He showed great vision to ping a diagonal ball towards Rubie’s run, whose excellent strength and control to knock the ball down with his chest allowed him to race away from his marker and also beat the wrong-footed goalkeeper who had been caught in no-man’s land.
All that was left for Rubie’s sixth goal of the season – already his most prolific campaign, with not even half of the games played – was a tap-in to make it a deserved 1-0 lead at the interval for Wakefield.
For a team of Wombwell’s character and capability, a response would have been expected in the second half. However, the intensity of Wakefield’s performance left no room for a comeback and the home side went from strength to strength in a second half that could have brought more than just the one goal that it did to complete a 2-0 win.
That goal came early in the half through Losa, who had played his best game yet for Wakefield in the unfamiliar number nine position. He was involved in the build-up, showing good strength and awareness to lay the ball off for Sandhu in midfield. The midfielder looked up and completed an almost inconceivable pass cross-field between the narrow gap of centre-back and full-back.
Rodriguez sprinted to meet the ball on the right dead-ball line and, with his confidence in the ascendancy, nutmegged the Wombwell defender before picking out the run of Losa, who side-footed the ball home for his third goal for Wakefield.
Opportunities were abundant for Wakefield, mainly through the electric Rodriguez who began to torment his opposition. That predictably led to a cynical foul that should have brought a Wombwell red-card. In the melee that ensued after, Wakefield’s Callum Charlton somehow saw yellow, as did the fortunate Wombwell culprit.
The increasingly aggressive tactics of a by now frustrated Wombwell did nothing to halt the momentum of Wakefield and Losa could have had a hat-trick with two more excellent chances.
The first came with 20 minutes to go, when Aaron Pilkington showed great vision after winning the ball in his own half to loop the ball over the entire Wombwell rearguard for Losa to run in on goal, but his strike was blocked by the goalkeeper when one v one. Then, moments later Losa again positioned himself brilliantly to latch on to a cross after excellent wing-play from Rubie down the right, but his close range shot went straight at the goalkeeper.
The missed chances did nothing to take the gloss off an outstanding, complete team performance from Wakefield, who saw the game out to finish with a vital win and well earned sixth clean sheet of the season.
The win leaves Wakefield still in third, but just four points off top with a game in hand and now well and truly back in contention at the top of the table.
The benefits of the result may go far beyond that, however, with the performance probably Wakefield’s best this year in every metric of importance; intensity, winning the ball back as a team, line-breaking passes and a host of others.
The cohesion and calibre of the performance was all the more impressive considering the changes to playing personnel in recent weeks, with only four of the 11 players to feature having played for the club before this season.
With the impressive performance of some of the newer players, including new-signing Cairney, it is sometimes easy to forget that when one door opens, another closes. Sadly for the club, following the game Cory Woodward made the difficult, but admirable, decision to step-back from football and he leaves Wakefield on good terms.
An ever-present in the side in the two seasons prior to this one, his consistency was unparalleled and matched only by his exemplary skill and composure.
With a rightful claim to being Wakefield’s best player in his time at the club, he was player’s player of the season in both of the last two campaigns, also winning fans’ player of the year in one of those.
A constant feature in the nation’s tightest non-league defence in 21/22, scorer of wonder goals, with 13 goals and a further four assists in 82 appearances, he will leave a large hole in the Wakefield squad, but goes with the thanks of all those associated with the club.
As for Wakefield, they next go to Louth Town on Saturday. Their scheduled first round West Riding County Cup tie at Selby Town tonight has been postponed.