Welwyn Garden City 2 Wembley 1: Citizens clinch title
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Welwyn Garden City were crowned South Midlands League champions for only the second time in their history, thanks to a controversial stoppage-time penalty against Wembley on Saturday.
The Citizens have secured their second SSML title with seven games to go – bridging a 46-year gap since they last won the crown of the league in which the club has played for the majority of its 97-year existence.
But this time, unlike 1972-73, when former Scots international Alex Massie steered his side to the championship – briefly breaking the all powerful Barton Rovers’ grip on the league at that time – there is a prize at the end of the rainbow.
With a total revamp of non-league football taking place at the end of this season, champion clubs of all 14 leagues at step five are assured of promotion as the FA are increasing the number of step four feeder divisions to seven, to help with travelling and geographical location.
WGC will be either a Southern or Isthmian League club, when next season kicks off but will not know which until all step five titles are resolved and the FA allocates clubs geographically in two months time.
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Referee Damien Mirzadeh incurred the wrath of a 183 crowd at Herns Lane for most of Saturdayy’s match, which saw four bookings for each side.
But villain turned hero four minutes into eight minutes of stoppage time, when Mr Mirzadeh awarded WGC a ‘soft’ penalty, as George Ironton went down under a challenge from Wembley full-back Tryer, with the ball seemingly destined to go out of play.
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The visitors were incensed, but the award stood and Tyler Hatherly, the latest recruit to what is now WGC’s title-winning squad, stepped up to take the responsibility to blaze home from the spot.
This, coupled with the news that title rivals Berkhamsted had only drawn 0-0 at Colney Heath, was the goal that clinched the title.
It wasn’t one of the best games to last in the memory, even if the club’s achievements this season do.
WGC, without the unavailable Ben Spaul, Jay Rolfe and Charlie Joy and with Jon Clements completing a three-match ban, began well enough, with Josh Bronti bringing a save from Wembley keeper Zulmatasilivi early on and then seeing teammate Ashley Kersey, unwittingly deflect another effort over.
But after being on the back foot for the opening 15 minutes, Wembley began to come into the game.
John McGrandles was at full stretch to deflect a Yassine Fehmi-Gil effort away from goal on 17 minutes but the Wembley skipper didn’t have to wait long for another chance, with his low shot beating keeper Charlie May a minute later, for a surprise lead for the visitors.
Apart from a good glancing header just wide from Paul Marks – WGC’s best player on the day – the Citizens couldn’t fashion anything of note before the interval.
It was better after the break, though, and nine minutes in, they were level as a high ball in from Jon Sexton, saw Ironton reach it just before the Wembley keeper and lob it over him for 1-1.
WGC had few clear-cut chances as they searched for the goal that might just secure them the championship, the best seeing Ironton sky a chance of a personal second over, after a good run by Dan Bond.
Keeper May was forced to a good save, turning a Tryer effort around a post, as Wembley threatened a last-gasp winner, but it looked as though a share of the spoils would have to suffice and a wait until another day for title success, until the late penalty drama.
WGC: May, Sexton, Corran (Boodhoo 73), McGrandles, Hatherly, Marks, Elliott, Ironton, Bronti (Payne 73), Kersey, Bond.