Wakefield AFC close in on Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League title with vital away wins

A seismic 10 days in the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League has put Wakefield AFC on the brink of glory as they completed a daunting run of five consecutive away games with three more vital victories at Stocksbridge Park Steels, Swinton Athletic and Wombwell Main.

By Tony Harber
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 1:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 1:25 pm

Heading into the three fixtures boasting an undefeated run of 14 league games Gabriel Mozzini's men knew their title prospects were in their own hands, but they could not afford any slip-ups and had they lost at Swinton the title would have gone to the South Yorkshire team, writes Austin Ainsworth.

It meant all eyes were on the Swinton game last Wednesday, Swinton needing to win in what was their last game of the season to finally clinch their first title and Wakefield needing to be the first side to inflict defeat on the favourites in their own back yard to keep their hopes alive in their last three games.

As such, it would have been easy for Wakefield to look past the Stocksbridge game in anticipation of that mammoth task days later against the league leaders. Taking your eyes off the game at hand is a dangerous habit and one Wakefield thankfully didn’t fall in to as they brushed the Sheffield team aside with a dominant display.

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Jake Morrison has increased his tally as the Wakefield AFC and Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League Premier Division top scorer.

Yet another clean sheet provided the bedrock for Wakefield’s success, as a first half hat-trick extended Wakefield - and the league’s - top scorer Jake Morrison’s eye-watering goal tally; and simultaneously calmed any lingering nerves from the Wakefield contingent to ensure there was no repeat of March’s frustrating 1-1 home draw in the two sides’ previous fixture.

It was a clinical display from the aforementioned marksman, who scored with almost every shot he had in the game. The first, in minute 11, came after a period of sustained possession for the away side. Danny Youel, always passing and probing, provided a typically pinpoint through ball for Morrison to run on to. As he met the ball in the box, he stunned the home side with a first time finish across the face of goal.

His second came just minutes later after a great ball in from the increasingly prolific assist-maker, Josh Craig at left-back. Time slowed for the composed Morrison, who found himself space to create the angle when all around were desperately lunging to block the shot. A deflection helped, as the striker’s powerful shot went in to the far corner to double Wakefield’s lead.

Morrison’s second hat-trick in two games, and third overall for the season, was completed just before half-time after an incredible piece of wing play from Mason Rubie.

The winger bamboozled the defence as he cut in on to his apparent weaker side, before his blistering change of pace opened up the space to provide a cutting pass in to the line of Wakefield’s number nine. The goal of the game followed, as Morrison showed audacity to curl an outrageous shot in to the far corner with the outside of his boot.

The striker found time to get a fourth just after the hour mark, in what was a more trademark tap-in at the near post. That came from the guile and creativity of Billy Mole on the right side who, after latching on to Youel’s teasing long ball, cut in to find space for a pinpoint cross.

Mole got in on the fun before time too, with his 19th goal of the season in the 85th minute. Substitute Mohammed Abou showed good strength and skill to whizz in to the box before cutting the ball back with the outside of his boot to allow Mole a simple finish.

The two then exchanged the favour on full-time when Mole got his second assist of the game from the left as he passed to Abou, whose initial shot was saved before he pounced on the rebound to complete the score at 6-0.

It meant Wakefield moved into the huge showdown with leaders Swinton high on confidence, searching for their first win over the league’s stand-out side of the last three years.

Goalkeeper Henry Kendrick made a timely return from injury and kept Wakefield in the game early in the second half; after a cagey but competitive first period in which neither side looked likely to score.

Unsurprisingly Swinton came out all guns blazing at the start of the second, their increasing pressure on the penned-in Wakefield defence resulting in a free-kick in a dangerous spot in the 54th minute. Wakefield heads were in hands as the ball was headed into the net from the second phase of play, before the away side were correctly given a reprieve for offside.

The early onslaught continued, however, as Kendrick was called in to action when his fingertips somehow stopped a rocket from 20 yards out with a truly world-class save at full stretch.

Wakefield’s watertight defence and unfaltering determination - epitomised by Jock Curran’s dogged midfield display - saw them through this difficult period, before captain James Morris’ impeccably timely first goal of the season sent the away contingent into jubilation just after the hour mark.

There was some controversy with the awarding of the corner that led to the goal, as the referee initially blew for a goal-kick, before the linesman overruled him feeling that a Craig cross had glanced off the defender’s head.

Wakefield went short to Rubie from the corner, whose step-over beat the defender and allowed him space to cross from the angle. Morris then rose highest with a towering header to put Wakefield in front.

The game was far from over and Swinton continued to press, but that allowed Wakefield several further opportunities on the counter and, in truth, the scoreline should have been higher; Mole striking the post late on and Morrison unable to latch on for a tap-in after a desperate Swinton goal-line scramble.

It mattered not, as Wakefield showed nerves of steel to hold out for a memorable first win over the leaders. It left Swinton on 60 points with their season compete and Wakefield six behind with three to play - all against top six sides.

The first of those three cup finals came in their final away game of the season on Monday at Terry Simon’s resurgent young Wombwell side, who themselves had recently beaten Swinton.

For large parts of the game Wombwell were on top, incredibly compact and organised on their tight pitch. Added to that was their incessant pressing off the ball, as Wakefield - certainly in the first 20 minutes - dug deep to keep their hopes alive. Kendrick again played his part early on as he stretched to his left to tip what looked to be a certain Wombwell goal just wide of the post.

As they so often do, Wakefield grew in to the game and started to see more and more possession of the ball in the Wombwell half. There was some fortune for Morrison as Wakefield took the lead in the 30th minute, the striker scoring his 28th goal of the season with thanks to an unfortunate error from the home keeper.

It was good play that led to the goal, however, as Craig and Rubie exchanged a one-two down the left before the former passed to the striker 20 yards out with his back to goal. He turned and smashed a shot low and the goalkeeper got a good hand to the ball, but somehow allowed it to deflect up and over him into the net.

Wakefield did go on to boss the remainder of the half, Morrison nearly adding a second with another long range effort that struck the post, as Wombwell increasingly had every man behind the ball, penned into their own third of the pitch.

Aside from a period shortly after the hour mark, in which the game turned pinball in the Wakefield box, as Wombwell saw three close-range shots blocked by the imperious Wakefield defence, the away side again showed their title credentials with a controlled performance to march towards another three points.

There was an unlikely hero again, as captain Morris scored his second header in successive games to complete a titanic performance on his part. He showed a striker’s instinct to time his run to perfection toward the near post, to latch on to a beautiful, in-swinging Youel corner.

The timing of the goal meant that the anticipated nail-biting, nervousness from the numerous travelling away fans never materialised; as Wakefield secured their fifth away win - and clean sheet - in succession. That run in itself, given the opposition faced, is truly remarkable.

With Wakefield now unbeaten in 17 league games and on a streak of eight wins - scoring 53 and conceding only seven goals in those fixtures - they are now on the brink of a title that looked impossible just weeks ago.

Belief, and the performances to go with that belief, mean that Mozzini’s side will feel the title can be theirs. With their superior goal difference, they now go in to their final two home games requiring only three points to clinch the trophy; the final one against Dodworth who themselves can still mathematically win the league.

In what has been a tantalising run-in, Wakefield will hope to avoid any final game decider against Dodworth, as before then they play sixth placed Oughtibridge WMSC on Saturday at Featherstone’s Millennium stadium, kick-off 3pm.

To spur the side on, Wakefield are hoping for a record home crowds, with free or pay-as-you-feel entry to the game and offers on drinks in the bar beforehand.