A change of manager and a raft of new signings has paved the way for Whitkirk Wanderers’ blistering start to 2017, which continued as they put an end to Hall Green United’s unbeaten league effort on Saturday.
The side are unbeaten since in 2017 and have gone from second-bottom to sixth under new manager Les Nelson, something that he himself puts down in part to a successful recruitment drive after he replaced Danny O’Hearne over Christmas.
“We’ve managed to get a few players in from a wide variety of clubs,” Nelson said, “sometimes in football it’s about who you know, and thankfully I seem to have had a good impression on some lads who have had good experiences with me in the past.
“It’s paying dividends, and all I’m doing is encouraging the lads to go out and enjoy their football.”
Whitkirk chairman Graham Flynn said that Nelson has single-handedly transformed the fortunes of the club: “The most important thing you can do at our level of football is get a coach who can bring in good players, and Les does that, but he’s managed to get the best out of the existing players too, and that’s the sign of a very good coach.”
Goals from Oliver Mallinson and substitute Joseph Clarke did the business for Whitkirk in what was a nip and tuck encounter that finished 2-1, and Nelson later admitted his side were fortunate to get the three points.
“It was a game of few chances and both defences were fantastic across the ninety minutes,” he said.
“All twenty-two players gave solid performances and a few people might have said a draw would’ve been fair.”
“We were a little bit lucky I think and it could have gone either way.
“You need that bit of luck in football.”
“Hall Green are obviously a good, strong outfit, but from our perspective we are on a good run.
“We went in as underdogs with nothing to lose and I think that helped.”
Hall Green, who remain sitting pretty at the top of the Division One table by two points and as many games in hand, had a controversial last minute goal disallowed that would have seen them stretch their unbeaten run to to 17 games.
“We were unlucky with that I think,” said Hall Green manager John Moore. “I’d say it was a bit dubious, put it that way.”
“In fairness, we didn’t really deserve a win. We just didn’t turn up on the day.
“In all honesty we’ve not really been playing that well over the past three or four weeks and to some extent we had this coming.”
The table toppers are contending with a unique player shortage they may have thought they had covered.
“We’ve got four goalkeeper at the club and for the last couple of weeks we’ve had two suspended and two injured.
“It’s definitely not the reason we lost on Saturday, but it certainly doesn’t help!
“I don’t think the defeat will affect our title bid too much.
In fact, this might be the kick up the backside the lads need,” he said. In a surprising twist of fate, the two sides will meet again this weekend in the return leg, and Nelson knows will be even more of a challenge.
“They’re a strong unit. They’ll regroup and will be looking forward to the game on Saturday. Again, we’ll go in as underdogs, we know that. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Wyke Wanderers held onto fifth place despite Whitkirk’s shock win by virtue of a better goal difference as they edged past bottom side Otley Town 2-1. East End Park saw off Boroughbridge 4-2, whilst Kippax and Howden Clough were postponed.
In the top tier, the round’s glamour tie between reigning champions Beeston St Anthony’s and champions-in-waiting Carlton will have to be replayed after it fell foul of the weather.
Field bounced back from last week’s shock defeat to Robin Hood and took the opportunity to move into third with a 3-1 win over Ilkley Town, whilst second-placed Leeds City continued their fine form with a 3-2 win at Horbury Town.
In the round’s only other match in the top division, Knaresborough Town overcame Hunslet Club 2-1.
Further down the league ladder, in the third tier, promotion-chasing Horsforth AFC continued their stumbling start to 2017 as they were beaten 2-1 by ninth-placed Garforth Rangers, whilst Nostell Miners Welfare, in sixth, beat tenth-placed Baildon Trinity Athletic by the same scoreline.