Wakefield AFC put one hand on first trophy with win in front of record crowd

A club record crowd of 562 were in attendance at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, as visitors Oughtibridge WMSC were all that stood between Wakefield AFC and the three points that would all but secure a first Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League title for the home side.

By Tony Harber
Monday, 9th May 2022, 9:54 am

Unbeaten in 17 leagues games and on an eight game winning run, a quite remarkable run of form under unbeaten new manager Gabe Mozzini meant that the record crowd watched on in anticipation, rather than hope, of a league title that looked impossible just weeks ago, writes Austin Ainsworth.

However Oughtibridge, second only to Wakefield in terms of recent form and unbeaten in 10 - winning nine of those - visited with their own aspirations of finishing the season in the fourth placed position that they occupied prior to kick-off.

Mozzini made only one enforced change to the team victorious away to Wombwell in the last match, Luke Blackburn coming in at right-back in place of captain James Morris - whose two headers in the last two matches provided vital wins over Wombwell and table-toppers Swinton Athletic. That change meant Bradley Swain moved into a central defence that had not conceded a goal in their last five games.

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Billy Mole scores the winning goal for Wakefield AFC against Oughtibridge WMSC Picture: Steve Biltcliffe photography

The physically imposing away side towered over much of the Wakefield contingent and their tactics were clear from the start; Wakefield enjoying the lion’s share of possession as Oughtibridge sat deep and defended their box in numbers.

On a day when an early goal would have worked wonders for the nerves of the expectant home crowd, the Wakefield players remained patient as their superiority in all metrics of the game failed to provide any clear-cut chances for the hosts in the first 20 minutes. The resolute away defence did start to creak after that point, 28 goal top-scorer Jake Morrison again nearly grabbing the headlines as his pressure on the uncertain away keeper allowed him a shot from a tight angle that was just cleared off the line.

The pressure continued to build for the title-hungry home side as midfielders Danny Youel and Jock Corran dominated their larger counterparts both on, and off, the ball; the former piercing the defence on several occasions with pinpoint through balls before nearly scoring himself with two edge-of-the-box efforts before the 30 minute mark.

Not long after, a through-ball - this time from Curran - provided the ammunition for Morrison to strike an expert first-time finish across the face of goal and into the back of the net, before the jubilant home crowd's roars were cut short by a cruel, but correct, offside flag.

Nevertheless, Wakefield had the bit between their teeth and they continued to press-on for the elusive first goal that would ensure there was no need for any nervous half-time team-talk from Mozzini, or anxious half-time drinks from the bar for the fans. It came in the 37th minute, as Billy Mole’s superb run and header provided the finish to a brilliant cross from full-back Josh Craig wide on the left, after his quick one-two with Youel had turned the Oughtibridge midfield who were increasingly chasing shadows.

Mole’s 20th goal of the season - his 14th in the league - broke the growing tension and could have allowed for a more serene second half. It was not to be as Oughtibridge, with league position to play for themselves, pushed higher after half-time and began to pose at least some threat towards Wakefield.

The home side still had the better chances, however, and could have provided some breathing space were it not for some smart goalkeeping from the Oughtibridge number one.

Winger Owen Kirman nearly grabbed his 14th goal of the season when he charged down an attempted clearance from the Oughtibridge defender, flicking the ball over his desperate lunge. Kirman’s delicate touch then put him in on goal, only for the keeper to dive low to his left and stop the wide-man’s point-blank shot.

The goalkeeper was called into action again moments later when Morrison was denied his 11th goal in seven games, this time from a free-kick 25 yards out. The striker struck it perfectly with the inside of his boot, curling it around the wall before the keeper tipped it wide on full-stretch to his left-hand side.

Morrison still had time to strike the bar in the 87th minute after a wonderful cross from substitute Jordan Chippendale. The marksman, at full pelt, jumped to meet the ball with his side foot on the volley and was unlucky to see it rise an inch too high. The miss let the striker know it was not to be his day, and so late on, no doubt left the home fans with the unfathomable thought that perhaps a late twist could mean it was not to be Wakefield’s day either.

The game wore on into the closing stages, with Wakefield forced to defend a number of nerve-wrecking corner-kicks and set-pieces towards the end; their sixth consecutive clean sheet maintained - and with it the three points - thanks to decisive goalkeeping from Henry Kendrick and an imperious defensive display from Swain and his partner Cory Woodward.

Never had a full-time whistle been so welcome when it finally came in the 93rd minute as the players stayed out on the pitch to be serenaded by slightly premature, but inevitable, chants of “Champione”.

The result pushed Oughtibridge down to fifth and sent Wakefield top of the league, level on points - but, thanks to their superior goal difference, above Swinton - whose season is already complete.

Wakefield’s remarkable run is not yet over, as their final game at home to Dodworth Miner’s Welfare could still see the third-placed visitors clinch the title themselves. A win for Dodworth would mean all of the top three sides finish level on 60 points but, with Wakefield 15 goals better off in the goal difference stakes, Dodworth will require an right-goal win to cause the most unlikely of upsets.

Wakefield should not, and will not, entertain that thought, as they will no doubt look to complete a tenth successive league victory and see out their phenomenal campaign in style.

The fans can again play their part, with their challenge to break the attendance record for the second week running and mark their place in the early history of Wakefield AFC’s rise. The game is to be played at Featherstone's Millennium Stadium on Saturday, kick-off 2pm.