Outgoing Wetherby Athletic manager Mark Forster is desperate to leave the club in the best state possible, whether that be in the top flight or not.
His side took three points from their nearest relegation rivals Oxenhope Recreation on Saturday to move within seven points of safety with a game in hand, and although Forster made clear that survival remains a long shot, he is proud of the way his players have carried themselves.
Wetherby, who’s playing squad was torn apart by outgoing transfers last summer, regularly features six or seven teenagers.
“From a development point of view, this season been massive for them,” Forster said, “this league is a very good standard of football and for 17 and 18 year olds, they can learn a lot very quickly.
“Football at this level is very tough, and it can be very difficult for players of that age anyway. Amateur football is very physical and it takes a very special teenager to flourish.
“What’s been hugely encouraging is that the lads haven’t given in. There’s a great spirit in the changing room and that shows a real level of maturity.”
Saturday’s win was the third of the season for Athletic, who had a double salvo from the returning John Maloney to thank for their 2-0 win. The experienced forward, who has captained Harrogate Town in a distinguished career, has returned to action following his success managing the Harrogate Ladies side this season.
“He’s really lifted the side,” he said. “John is a very experienced, very cultured footballer and his presence gives the rest of the players someone to look up to. He’s someone these younger lads can learn from.”
Despite Maloney’s brace, Forster singled out 17-year-old Philip Milson as his man of the match for a tireless display on the right hand side of midfield.
“He put a real shift in. It was a very mature performance and is typical of the sort of performances these kids are putting in this season.
“We had five teenagers in the side on Saturday, and you’d never have known.”
Having coached at a number of levels over the years, Forster is leaving the club at the end of the season, and revealed that the committee is busy identifying a suitable replacement to work alongside him for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve just got to keep going and see what happens,” he said on battling relegation.
“The next few weeks are important, we’ve got a really exciting crop of players here that have come on leaps and bounds, and it’s so important that we keep them next season. I’ll have someone alongside me in the next few weeks to ensure a smooth transition and in order to make sure these lads feel comfortable and stay on board, whatever level we are playing at next season.
“You don’t often see a crop of 17, 18, 19 year olds with so much potential at this level.”
Elsewhere, Knaresborough Town moved into fifth with a 3-2 win over Horbury Town. Town came from a goal down and won thanks to goals Lewis Pye, debutant Josh McKinnon and Dan McDaid, whilst Tom Clare saw red. The only action above them saw Leeds City go second with a 2-1 win over Hunslet Club.
Shelley overcame lowly Ilkley Town 2-1, whilst Pool had goals from Matthew Bliney and Scott Cater to thank for their 2-1 win over Brighouse Old Boys. Headingley and Field were postponed.
In the second tier, Hall Green United retained their place at the top with a thrilling 5-4 win over East End Park, who slip to eleventh, but Hartshead, in second, kept up in the chase with an impressive 3-2 victory at home to Leeds Modernians.
Aberford Albion moved up to sixth with a 4-0 drubbing of Wyke Wanderers, Whitkirk Wanderers overcame Kippax 2-1, and Featherstone Colliery moved a point further away from the drop zone after they played out a 2-2 draw with Old Centralians.
In the third tier, Rawdon Old boys continued to tear the league apart with a 6-0 drubbing at home to Kellingley Welfare, going five points clear of AFC Horsforth, who were postponed in the second-plays-third clash against Rothwell.
Hapless Great Preston conceded their 130th goal in just 20 games as they were beaten 5-0 against Altofts, and Garforth Rangers lost 5-2 to Nostell Miners Welfare.