There may only be four matches left in their season, but Headingley AFC’s campaign is far from over, so says their manager Elliot Sheeran.
The in-form side beat Brighouse Old Boys 2-0 on Saturday to put further breathing room between them and the relegation spaces, which could be extended to four teams if Nostell Miners Welfare rejoin the league from the Northern Counties set-up.
“We’ve really come together in the past few weeks,” Sheeran said, “The lads really want to prove their worth and play at this level.
“We’ve got a settled squad and having a constant run of games has helped. The run of Saturday and midweek games has made all the difference and has allowed us to get a rhythm going that we probably didn’t have before.”
With 37 points earned, Sheeran says his players have already surpassed the club’s pre-season expectations.
“I sat down with the chairman at the start of the season and we decided that 27 points would be enough to stay up. Clearly that’s changed now but I hope we can push on. I’ve always said we have players who should be aiming at the top-eight positions and even pushing on towards the top five, and we’ve got ourselves in a position now that, if we carry on our form and win our last few games, we’ll be there.”
First-half goals from Oliver Carter and by Merlyn Andrews on the stroke of half-time did the damage for Sheeran’s men on Saturday, who were in control of the game from start to finish. The defeat effectively relegated Brighouse, who sit rock-bottom with only four wins this season.
“We knew it was a massive game,” said Sheeran. “Because there may be four teams being relegated, we’ve never felt safe, and this has always felt like a game we had to look at winning.
“We beat them 5-0 in the County Cup earlier in the season and 2-0 at home, so we knew if we started well we could grind them down and that’s what we did.
“The goal just before half-time killed them off really.
“We have had a few injuries, as it to be expected at this stage of the season, and we had to really patch up a few holes.”
One of the knocks was to talismanic top scorer Ashley Austin, who came on for the game’s final few minutes. Austin has bagged 25 goals in just 28 games this season, just half the side’s total.
“He’s a real poacher, he’s very athletic and he gets himself into really good positions,” said Sheeran. “He’s crucial to us. In years gone by he’s played deeper at the top of midfield but this season we’ve asked him to go forward and he’s delivered.
“We can’t afford to rely on him, though, and we need other players to step up, and I was delighted to see a couple of the boys do that on Saturday.”
Despite being relatively lowly placed in 11th, Headingley have lost only one of their last eight league fixtures, which was a 3-0 defeat last Wednesday at all-conquering Carlton.
“That was disappointing,” Sheeran admitted. “We really felt as though we should be showcasing ourselves as a side that can achieve things higher up the division, and, to be honest, we were pretty lacklustre and never got ourselves going.
“If I could work out why I probably wouldn’t be managing in the West Yorkshire League!
“It was just one of those games that we couldn’t get a hold of the game and it passed us by in the end. The club have never played at this level before and staying in the division was always the main aim.
“Anything else that may or may not happen is a bonus.”
That aim was aided further by Oxenhope Recreation’s 3-2 defeat against Sherburn. Oxenhope went in 1-0 up at half-time but couldn’t sustain the pressure. They sit a point back on Ilkley Town, who were absent on cup duty.
At the top of the league, Carlton’s saunter to the title is almost wrapped up after they overturned a 1-0 scoreline to beat last year’s champions Beeston 2-1.
Elsewhere, there were 1-1 draws between Leeds City and Horbury Town, and Field and Knaresborough Town Reserves. Beeston bounced back from Saturday’s defeat to beat Robin Hood Athletic 4-1 on Monday.
Last Wednesday, Robin Hood and Sherburn drew 2-2, and Field beat Pool 1-0.