Seven-up Wakefield AFC start new season in style in front of impressive crowd
An impressive crowd of 305 spectators were present at Featherstone Rovers' Millennium Stadium to witness Wakefield AFC’s winning return to Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League action against High Green Villa.
On two previous occasions Wakefield - now in their third year as a club - have failed to finish a league season as a result of Covid-19 leading to both of their last two ‘debut’ campaigns being declared null and void.
In each of those last two seasons, Wakefield also failed to win their opening game. But that was emphatically corrected by the home side as they posted a marker for the season ahead with an eye-catching 7-2 victory, despite going a goal down early on.
Seven goals in response - marred only by a consolation second goal for the visitors with the last kick of the game - put paid to any early doubts that the team means business in their third attempt at a promotion push towards their goal of becoming Wakefield’s first professional football club.
For a club with lofty ambitions, the continuous curtailment of football has done nothing to halt their endless development both on and off the pitch. That was evident as, for the third time in three seasons, Wakefield fielded a team of almost entirely new players; captain Jack Burton the only ever-present from the side named at the start of last season.
Adam Lockwood remains as manager and he opted for a 4-4-2 formation with George Bason the man in goal. Mason Rubie was another familiar face at right-back, alongside a new look centre-back pairing of Bradley Swain and James Morris, with Cory Woodward at left-back. Burton anchored midfield alongside Luke Blackburn, as Red Bates and academy product Owen Kirman provided pace and trickery from the wings. Jake Morrison led the line up-front, with the club’s latest recruit, Daniel Youel, providing him support at number 10.
Most of the early chances came from free-kicks and corners; Morrison missing out on his first Wakefield goal in the fifth minute when he headed over from a corner and Morris following suit five minutes later when he did the same.
High Green had their own set-piece opportunity in the 13th minute after the referee blew for the first of a number of soft fouls. The in-swinging cross from the right was precise enough to hit the danger zone just out of reach of Bason. It was not out of reach of the on-rushing Travis Hodgson, though, who stole a march on the defence to head in from the six-yard box and silence the home crowd.
Wakefield responded in style, as Burton - repeating his consistent performances from last season - and the equally impressive Blackburn took control in the middle of the park and started to find Wakefield’s forward players, who always appeared to have an extra gear in one-on-one situations against the Villa backline.
The equaliser came in the 26th minute after a Wakefield corner. Morrison peeled off to the edge of the area to hammer in a shot, with Swain positioned perfectly on the si- yard line to deflect the ball in to the back of the net.
With any lingering nerves eased, Wakefield continued to press and Morrison reverted from creator to goal-scorer in the 33rd minute. Youel created space for himself close to half-way when receiving a well-placed ball from the defence on the half-turn, before showing all of his skill and vision with a perfectly weighted ball threaded through the eye of a needle to find Morrison. The striker’s excellent first touch eliminated any remaining fight from the last defender, before his second touch sat the goalkeeper down, leaving a simple left-foot finish in to an open net to get him off the mark for the season.
Two minutes later the ever-threatening Wakefield wingers were in on the action, as Bates switched to the left and ran on to another pinpoint pass from the home backline to start the counter-attack. He proceeded to beat two men before crossing to the back post, where Kirman met the cross with a first-time finish past the goalkeeper.
High Green appeared to have no response, although were given a lifeline in the 41st minute after a rare attack was cleared off the line and eventually put out for a corner. What followed had everyone in the ground confused when the referee blew for a penalty, after an apparent push on a player in the box who even himself appeared surprised at the decision.
The visitors did not take the chance, however, as their penalty attempt rattled the crossbar and bounced out for Wakefield to counter again.
Moments later Rubie took a quick throw-in over the exposed full-back, which Morrison chased in from the right. Again showing strength on the turn, he held off the chasing defender before cutting the ball back for Kirman, who timed his run to perfection for another excellent first-time finish past the helpless High Green goalkeeper.
There was no chance Wakefield were going to take their foot off the gas in the second half, still relentless in their possession, pressing and chance creation even at 4-1.
After Kirman and Morrison combined to create two good chances for each other in the opening minutes, Morrison did then eventually bag his second goal in the 54th minute after Kirman hit an excellent first time pass down the wing. Yet again the number nine shrugged the defender off with ease before turning and running in from the left channel. His excellent work was rewarded with some good fortune as the keeper initially saved his shot but saw it bounce back off the on-rushing striker and in to the back of the net.
Wakefield’s sixth goal followed in the 68th minute as man of the match Kirman broke down the right to cut back for Rubie who delivered a beautiful curling cross towards the back post for his opposite full-back Woodward to head in.
Lockwood rang the changes in the closing stages but Wakefield’s dominance continued, with substitutes Henry Millership and Bruno Bagi helping the side in to seventh heaven in the 79th minute.
Millership initiated the move with a smart run and cut-back to Morrison from the right. Morrison’s shot went wide left but turned from a bad shot in to a perfect assist for Bagi, who met the ball at the back post to fire home.
High Green, who hardly had a kick in the second half, did somehow find a consolation in stoppage time, as substitute centre-back Josh Lockwood was beaten to the ball by the chasing attacker. He squared for Josh Hall who was left with an easy finish past the previously underworked Bason.
Wakefield boss Lockwood was rightly pleased, saying after the match: “It was a tough start going 1-0 down, but I thought the guys stuck to their task, moved the ball well and have set a standard.
"We have to maintain that week-in, week-out; it’s very tough and we are going to face some good challenges, but it’s now on to the next game.”
The impressive win was somehow not enough to see Wakefield to the top of the league, who ended the day second behind the ever-imperious Swinton on goal difference. Wakefield appear set to challenge them all the way this yea, and will take their next step on this season’s journey back at The Millennium Stadium on Saturday when Stocksbridge Park Steels Reserves are the visitors, kick-off 3pm.