Wakefield AFC head for Northern Counties East League as champions with first trophy secured

Wakefield AFC will be playing their football in step six of the national league pyramid - in Division One of the NCE League - next season after ending their first full season as a football club on the highest possible note against fellow league challengers Dodworth MW.

By Tony Harber
Monday, 16th May 2022, 8:00 am

Already on the brink of their first title after an incredible run of nine wins, Wakefield were faced with a Dodworth side still in with a slim chance of clinching the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League trophy themselves, writes Austin Ainsworth.

For that to happen, Dodworth required an 8-0 victory to ensure all three title hopefuls - Swinton Athletic in second being the other - finished on 60 points, with goal difference the key factor.

Stranger things have happened, especially with the vagaries of non-league football. However, Wakefield, so impressive in their relentless quest for excellence at both ends of the pitch, were never likely to allow an upset and so it transpired in a 2-0 victory on a day where the game played second fiddle to the festival like occasion.

Sign up to our daily Wakefield Express Today newsletter

Wakefield AFC players were celebrating at the weekend after clinching the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League title and promotion to the NCE League where they will play against neighbours Nostell MW and Glasshoughton Welfare next season. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe

There was still a game of football to be played, though, and unbeaten manager Gabe Mozzini named his strongest possible side, unchanged from the recent league victory over Oughtibridge that all but confirmed the title.

Of note in the line-up, Owen Kirman and Cory Woodward’s appearances ensured they completed the incredible feat of featuring in all 31 of Wakefield’s league and cup fixtures over the course of the season.

Third-placed Dodworth would have been expected to come out all guns blazing, requiring an early goal to quieten an expectant league-record crowd of 608 and to also give themselves hope of the impossible.

Imperious Wakey had other ideas, with midfield maestro Danny Youel bagging his sixth goal of the season in glorious fashion in just the third minute. Kirman, as he has done all season, went darting down the left wing to initiate the attack, beating two before cutting a cross back towards Wakefield’s player of the season Billy Mole on the edge of the box.

He laid the ball off to Youel 20 yards out, who struck an inch-perfect, curled shot with the inside of his boot past the stretching arms of the Dodworth keeper.

The goal sent the crowd into jubilation, casting aside any doubt that Wakefield would release their grasp on the league title. They did not release their grasp on control of the game either. And, aside from a brief moment five minutes later, when Dodworth had the ball in the back of the net after a good move that was called offside, Wakefield had the better of the chances in a first half in which they should have scored more.

It was league, and club top-scorer Jake Morrison - with 28 goals in all competitions - who had the best chances; first when his incessant pressure of the Dodworth defence alongside Mole allowed the latter to nick the ball and play him in. With the angle narrowing, the striker was denied by a good save when one-on-one.

The Dodworth goalkeeper continued to thwart the goal-hungry striker’s attempts to extend his tally, making a point-blank save just before the half-hour mark when Morrison got his head on the end of a well-crafted Youel corner.

It was mostly Dodworth scrambling to keep Wakefield out, Kirman and Morrison enjoying several shots at goal just before half-time, only denied by the blocks of the lunging visiting defenders.

With Dodworth requiring nine goals to win the league in just 45 second half minutes, the only realistic carrot left to play for was the second place in the league that a win would secure them, while Wakefield’s quest was to see out the campaign with a 10th consecutive victory and seventh consecutive clean sheet.

Dodworth improved in the second period and nearly equalised shortly after the re-start. Wakefield keeper Henry Kendrick - just before the impending host of celebratory substitutions saw him subbed for Max Child - made an excellent save with his last act of his game, denying a Dodworth attack down the left with a big and brave stop from close distance to preserve the home side’s lead.

That save put the ball out for a corner and Wakefield pounced on the counter immediately afterwards. The ball was initially cleared to Mole, who passed to Youel in space in the middle of the park. Youel showed vision to see the run of Kirman, who was upfield, stood on the last man. His pinpoint long pass turned the backtracking defence and Kirman showed strength to muscle his way in, nod the ball down with his head and then deftly clip the ball past the goalkeeper with the outside of his left boot to double his side’s lead.

That was his 14th of the season, leaving him behind only Mole on 20, and Morrison on 28 in the Wakefield goalscoring charts.

Further substitutes were made by Mozzini, keen to reward the hard work and dedication of the Wakefield squad; with Josh Lockwood, Bruno Bagi and Harley Blankley all coming on to see out Wakefield’s victory lap.

They, and the rest of the side, did well to maintain Wakefield’s seventh clean sheet in a row, as Dodworth created further goalscoring opportunities. Substitute keeper Child made an excellent save in the 65th minute when a Dodworth attack parted the Wakefield defence. Their striker seemed certain to score, only for Child to impressively read the shot and keep the ball out.

Welfare’s best chance fell 10 minutes later, when an incredible crossfield pass from the right wing played the Dodworth striker in for a diving header from the penalty spot. Child would have had no chance, however the ball flew just past his left post to deny the away side a consolation.

In the final 10 minutes Wakefield prompted chants of “Ole” as they bossed possession - thanks largely to the excellent performances of Jock Curran and Youel - in order to see out a historic and memorable victory.

There was still time for Wakefield to pepper the Dodworth goal in the dying stages, Bagi and Morrison each seeing shots blocked at close range; the latter denied the elusive goal that would have rewarded his hard-running performance.

All that was left before the celebrations ensued was Wakefield’s final substitution and one that drew rapturous applause, as George Bason made his incredible return from a serious injury in November to become Wakefield’s third goalkeeper of the day in the 86th minute.

Wakefield saw out the game to win 2-0 and a carnival of celebration ensued on the Millennium Stadium pitch. Captain James Morris - so cruelly denied his part in the last two games due to injury - lifted the league trophy amid an explosion of flares and chants of “Champione”, after each of the Wakefield squad had received individual medals for their remarkable achievements.

In an incredible, emotional and unbelievable end to the season, it should be remembered that this is not just a trophy for the deserving players and coaches; it is also a trophy for all of the brilliant staff and volunteers - past and present - who have played their part; a trophy for the fantastic fans; and a trophy for the city of Wakefield.

There is no argument that Wakefield are deserving of this accolade - made possible by a run of 19 games unbeaten since November. And, among a host of great sides that have pushed them all the way, the stats speak for themselves: Wakefield have scored the most goals and conceded the fewest; kept an unfathomable 17 clean sheets; won the most games, with 20 victories; and lost the fewest, with just three defeats.

The standards they have set, the incessant pursuit of excellence and the unrivalled support of the fans are the reason they are champion, and these attributes will be required in abundance in two short months when Wakefield embark on their next challenge, a level up, as a semi-professional club.