Wakefield AFC look to bounce back after 11-match unbeaten run ends in top of table clash

​Wakefield AFC’s hopes of automatic promotion from Division One of the Toolstation NCE League nosedived with a midweek draw followed by their first defeat in 11 games.
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With three league wins in a row and an aggregate score of 12-1, Wakefield entered a big week at the top of the table and high on confidence, but it did not go according to plan, writes Austin Ainsworth.

Faced with the long trip in midweek to mid-table Retford FC, before Saturday’s second-against-third clash away at promotion chasing rivals Shirebrook Town, Wakefield had a real chance to make a statement in their push for the title, particularly as the other two sides in the top four – Beverley Town and Parkgate – were also facing each other in the weekend’s other big game.

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However, that burgeoning confidence and momentum was first sapped with a disappointing 1-1 draw at Retford, before things went from bad to worse with a 2-0 loss at Shirebrook on Saturday.

Slater Barnes made it 10 goals from 10 games when he netted in midweek for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe PhotographySlater Barnes made it 10 goals from 10 games when he netted in midweek for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography
Slater Barnes made it 10 goals from 10 games when he netted in midweek for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography

After the highs of the previous week’s 6-0 thrashing of Swallownest, the warning signs of a dip in form were there in a drab first half away at Retford, in which Wakefield barely threatened the home side’s goal.

In what is becoming a trend of slow first halves for Wakefield, the home side were gifted the advantage in the 41st minute when the otherwise excellent Ryan Musselwhite in Wakefield’s goal was caught out trying to play out from the back; a slow, bobbling pitch compounding the consequence of his under-hit pass, which fell to Retford’s Ainsley Finney who did well to punish Wakefield with a deft, first-time lob into the net.

As is becoming customary for Wakefield manager Gabe Mozzini, he made a double substitution at half-time in the hopes of injecting some life into his side.

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Cameron Barnett was one of the players to enter the fray and his impact was immediate as he first finished a quick-fire move with a venomous shot that went narrowly over.

Then, moments later, his good work on the ball drew a foul in the box for Wakefield to win a penalty.

Slater Barnes, looking for his 10th goal in as many games, stepped up to take the spot kick and duly dispatched it, although not without an element of doubt as the ball just wormed its way under the grasp of the Retford goalkeeper, who dived the right way

Wakefield, much improved in the second half, were unable to complete the turnaround despite a number of good chances; their best late on when captain Jack Durkin tried his luck from distance with a vicious shot that was saved into the path of striker Lewis Stephens.

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However, his close range shot was well saved by the busy Retford goalkeeper.

That meant Wakefield left Retford with a solitary point and, notwithstanding their better second half performance, feelings of disappointment at more lost ground in the league.

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Wakefield went into Saturday’s game away to Shirebrook level on points with the Derbyshire side and one behind league leaders Beverley.

As all three of their top-four rivals have games in hand, the onus was on Wakefield to get back to winning ways. However, it was Shirebrook who looked the side with more intent.

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Mozzini did make changes ahead of the fixture, understandably rewarding Barnett’s recent performances with a rare start after 21 substitute appearances this season. Jack Cairney also came into defence to make his first league start in more than a month.

On the face of it that appeared to suggest Wakefield would utilise the 3-5-2 formation that brought success in the recent win over Swallownest, however they more closely resembled their usual 4-3-3 formation, with T’nique Fishley an unorthodox choice at right-back behind top scorer Mason Rubie on the wing.

Aside from a half-chance for Barnes early on – a difficult volley that flew over – Wakefield were under par and saw their attacks constantly break down through uncharacteristically wayward passing and an at times heavy first touch.

In truth Shirebrook did not create much either in a game of few chances, however were clinical with the one good opportunity they did create just after the half-hour mark.

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It was a player Wakefield fans of a certain vintage may recall who came back to haunt them; old foe from the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League Carlton Carty adding to his goals against them in his time at Ecclesfield Red Rose with a good finish to put his side ahead

Wakefield were static as the ball was initially played out to the left before their winger was easily played in behind the back four. His cut-back travelled across the area for Carty, who had evaded his marker, to cap his well timed run with a deadly finish to the corner of the net.

Unlike in recent fixtures, there was no significant response from Wakefield who, not for lack of trying, saw plenty of the ball but were unable to threaten the Shirebrook goal with any regularity.

Stephens could have had a penalty before half-time when he was he bundled over just as he was jumping to meet a cross at the back post.

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The referee waved that penalty away but was not so forgiving at the start of the second half when Jordan Helliwell was penalised for apparent contact with the dangling leg of a Shirebrook attacker in the Wakefield box.

For the Falcons not to receive their own penalty in the first half and then fall victim to that decision early in the second half was harsh, but Ryan Musselwhite was up to the challenge as he expertly saved the resultant spot-kick.

Moments like that can often provide the impetus required for a come-back, but that did not transpire as Shirebrook went on to double their lead as the game reached the hour mark.

From a cross from deep towards Wakefield’s back post Durkin was goal-side of Shirebrook’s Bradley McGowan and had him tightly marked, but the latter’s quick feint at the last minute provided him just enough space to volley the ball home from close range

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Minutes later the hosts were reduced to 10 men after Nathan Watson saw red for a late, high challenge on Cameron Barnett; the advantage of a man extra no consolation as Barnett went off in pain soon after.

Wakefield could not make the extra man count, the closest they came to reducing the deficit another Barnes volley at the back post late on, this time on target but ably met by the Shirebrook goalkeeper.

That meant Wakefield suffered their first defeat in 11 games, a defeat that means they fall to third in the table as Shirebrook become the new leaders.

Wakefield were always relying on other sides to drop points around them, but the defeat will almost certainly mean automatic promotion as the league champions is now out of reach. However, although a set-back, Wakefield are still well placed for a play-off spot and will quickly get their chance to make amends for the draw at Retford FC as their next match is the reverse fixture at Belle Vue tonight (Tuesday), kick-off 7.45pm.

They then host promotion favourites Parkgate on Saturday.