Nine-man Wakefield AFC hold on to earn important three points at Worsbrough Bridge
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They had two opportunities to get back on track, with a midweek fixture at home to Athersley Recreation followed by Saturday’s away trip to Worsbrough Bridge, writes Austin Ainsworth.
Both of the Barnsley sides are at the wrong end of the table and neither have won a league game since August; in theory leaving Wakefield optimistic of a return to winning ways.
Things did not quite go to plan for Wakefield, however, as it was a challenging evening against an Athersley side that stationed all 10 outfield players behind the ball.
Despite Wakefield controlling 80% of the possession and creating a plethora of chances, the issues that have plagued them at times this season continued to linger.
They found themselves a goal down at half-time from Athersley’s only attempt, a long ball up field that was pounced upon by Oliver McQuillin.
Wakefield did hit back as Billy Mole’s cross deflected in off their former defender Haydn Ward, but had to settle for their first draw of the season after Nathan Hawkhead was sent-off for a second bookable offence.
The result placed extra pressure on their trip to Worsbrough, with three points needed to ensure they stayed in touch with the top sides.
Several players were missing, meaning manager Gabe Mozzini gave Edward Busfield his first start in defence alongside Jack Durkin. In attack Mole was moved up front with Kieran Ceesay on the wing and Sebastian Losa brought into an attacking midfield role.
Wakefield started the game playing uphill on Worsbrough’s bobbly, sloping pitch and that perhaps affected their ability to dictate the game in terms of possession, chances and territory, with the hosts seeing several early efforts from set-pieces just miss the target; one a clear cut opportunity at the back post that was somehow headed over from a corner.
It was Wakefield who did take the lead in the 13th minute when Mole moved on to 49 goals for the club with his 11th strike of the season.
Jaydan Sandhu, equally prolific at creating goals as Mole is scoring them, was the provider when he lobbed a cute pass over the Worsbrough backline for Mole’s perfectly timed run from the right.
Mole let the ball bounce and then drilled a low, half-volley inside of the near post.
Wakefield’s glee did not last long as they were stung on the counter-attack 10 minutes later. Sandhu’s ball out wide was cut-out, leaving the away side exposed. Worsbrough were rapid on the turnover as Taylor Nicholson threaded a pass through to Andrew Horbury who finished well past Henry Kendrick to level.
Both sides had further half-chances as the game wore on but neither could have any arguments the game was even at half-time.
The second half was more of the same with Worsbrough again threatening from set-pieces. They should have taken the lead close to the hour mark when a free-kick was delivered to the back post but, as on multiple occasions in the first half, the ball was headed over the Wakey bar.
Mozzini made substitutions and moved his players round like pieces on a chess board in an effort to find the opening. The changes saw the introduction of Oliver Clarke alongside Mole up front, while Callum Charlton was pushed further forward from his left-back position.
It was he who had Wakefield’s best chance of the half in the 81st minute when his first-time shot in the area went just wide of the goal.
Worsbrough were value for their point and had a real claim for all three with the chances created, with Connor Glavin nearly giving the home side a late lead when he turned the Wakefield defence with a long pass out wide before running to latch on to the return ball. He shot towards goal but Wakey centre-back Durkin expertly positioned himself to block the ball, which ricocheted off the post and to safety.
That Worsbrough had come so close to a memorable result likely made what came next even more demoralising for them as Wakefield, who had struggled to create chances, grabbed all three points in stoppage time.
It was again Sandhu, with his 10th assist of the season, whose vision proved the inspiration with a line-breaking pass from deep in his own half to find the run of Charlton through the centre.
Charlton beat the Worsbrough defence and then rounded the goalkeeper, leaving a tap-in for his first goal of the season.
The drama was not over there as Mole saw red soon after when he was given a second yellow card, questionably having been adjudged to have caught a Worsbrough player when attempting a sliding tackle.
The red was all the more difficult to take given his first yellow had harshly come in the first half for kicking the ball away when he legitimately shot at goal just as the referee blew for a foul.
His frustration blew over at the decision, as he appeared to shove the referee, leaving worrying questions for how long Wakefield may now be without their star man.
No sooner had the game restarted that Wakefield lost another man, with substitute Clarke receiving a straight red card for a late tackle; another dubious decision when a yellow card seemed more fitting for what was the last act of the game.
Worries about who will fill in for injuries and suspensions aside, the result leaves Wakefield in sixth but with a game in hand that could see them back in to the play-off places if they win it.
Paradoxically for Wakefield, of the last three games it was perhaps their least productive in terms of chances, passes and overall superiority, but their best with regard to the result. And the result was all that mattered, particularly when it came so late and in such battling fashion.
The challenge moving forward will be for Wakefield to combine the doggedness and determination that saw them through this game, with the fluidity and free-flowing football of some of the season’s earlier performances.
Wakefield will get their next chance to do so when Ollerton Town visit the Be Well Support Stadium on Saturday.