Wakefield AFC stay unbeaten in big week thanks to four star Slater Barnes

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​Wakefield AFC had a big week in the Toolstation NCE Division One, first welcoming fellow promotion chasers Beverley Town to the Be Well Support Stadium in midweek before making the long trip to Brigg Town on Saturday.

Both games ended in draws with goals aplenty in entertaining contests, writes Austin Ainsworth.

​After a run of three successive away victories – with 11 goals scored and none conceded – Wakefield’s confidence was high as Beverley, who sat two points below them going into the game, shared the hosts’ first experience of playing in front of the partially opened new East Stand at Belle Vue.

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And, despite Wakefield’s momentum carrying over into a fast, dominant start against their rivals, that saw Slater Barnes give the home side an early lead with a deft chip over the goalkeeper, the points were also shared between the evenly matched sides.

Slater Barnes found the net four times in two games for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe PhotographySlater Barnes found the net four times in two games for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography
Slater Barnes found the net four times in two games for Wakefield AFC. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography

On a challenging night for Wakefield, their early lead gave way as Beverley grew into the game and equalised through Alexander Knaggs in the 28th minute. With a hint of offside, the goal was fortuitous, if not a fair reflection of the control the visitors had started to exert on proceedings, as Knaggs stabbed the ball home from close range following a well delivered corner not dealt with.

The home side did not have a sniff of goal for the remainder of the half and things deteriorated further at the beginning of the second period as Beverley pressed well to punish a moment of sloppiness in Wakefield’s build-up from the back; Benjamin Hinchliffe finishing expertly as he slid in to complete a quick counter attack.

Just before the hour Beverley had a huge chance to place some daylight between themselves and Wakefield, but a comical mis-hit from a striker who had the goal at his mercy saved the home side.

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Such was the topsy-turvy nature of the second half, Wakefield went straight up the other end to make it 2-2. The goal came from Barnes – a revelation since moving to the club – with a screamer from 25 yards out into the top corner.

Callum Charlton challenges for the ball against Beverley Town. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe PhotographyCallum Charlton challenges for the ball against Beverley Town. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography
Callum Charlton challenges for the ball against Beverley Town. Picture: Steve Biltcliffe Photography

However, the hosts left themselves with another mountain to climb only a few minutes later when they were again pegged back through Grant Tait’s tap-in after keeper George Bristol had been unable to hold a dipping, long range shot.

As the game wore on, Wakefield showed great resilience and resolve in the face of Beverley’s attempts to frustrate and slow-time, but the game looked gone after several half chances left the home side still trailing deep into injury time.

That was until Barnes, for a hat-trick on his home debut, pounced to slot the ball home after Joel Spence’s long range shot was spilled by the Beverley goalkeeper.

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All in all the draw, of more use to Beverley who have three games in hand on Wakefield, was a fair reflection on the game. The result meant Wakefield went in to Saturday’s fixture away to mid-table Brigg still sitting atop the league.

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The big news in Gabe Mozzini’s team selection for that fixture was the return of Wakefield’s title-winning captain from two seasons ago, James Morris, finally fit enough after a long term injury to make his first start since May 2022.

In a slight change to Wakefield’s usual formation, winger Oliver Rodriguez also returned to the starting line-up as part of a fluid attacking trio of himself, Barnes and Mason Rubie behind Ben Gelder up front.

Wakefield again took an early lead after a good start, with Gelder bagging his eighth goal of the season with a composed finish to the corner, after Morris capped his return with strong play in the box to deflect Jaydan Sandhu’s cross down into the striker’s path.

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Frustratingly for the strong contingent of away support, Wakefield again failed to build on their early lead and played out a disappointing first half in which Brigg were afforded too many chances on Bristol’s goal. As in midweek, the equaliser came close to the half-hour mark as Bristol could only deflect a low, long range shot into the path of Brigg’s Luke Mascall, who was on hand to make it 1-1.

And, with almost the last action of the first half, Wakefield’s half-time team talk became all the more difficult when Brigg took the lead through Dean McCarthy’s rising header to meet a controversially awarded corner.

Wakefield did show improvement in the second half and started to push closer towards Brigg’s goal, Rodriguez having one good chance to score when he finished a swift move with a first time shot that was well saved by the goalkeeper.

Inevitably the equaliser did come and, also inevitably, it was Barnes who was the hero again with his seventh goal in just five games. It was another fine solo effort for the winger who expertly controlled substitute Alexander King’s knock-down header before showing quick feet to accelerate past two Brigg players midway through the opposition half.

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Barnes then unleashed a vicious, dipping shot that left the Brigg keeper with no chance despite being aimed toward the near post.

There was no time for Wakefield to find the goal that would have gifted them all three points and therefore, in a week where nothing has been lost for the Falcons, they now drop to second in the league, behind Beverley on goal difference.

It is the team below Wakefield that will be their focus, however, with Parkgate – three points behind but with seven games in hand – the next opposition tonight (Tuesday) for what is likely to be Mozzini’s men’s toughest test yet.

Kick-off is 7.45pm at Parkgate’s Roundwood Pavilion ground.

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