Wisbech push all the way as Ilkeston crowned champions
Wisbech Town 1, Ilkeston Town 2
Pitching In Northern Premier League Midlands Division
Today might have been all about Ilkeston as they were crowned league champions, but there were also signs of a brighter future for already-relegated Wisbech now Allan Ross has been appointed manager for next season.
The Robins only needed a point to claim the crown but, under their newly-confirmed boss, the Fenmen went toe to toe with their illustrious opponents and were left ruing two controversial refereeing decisions.
Backed by more than 200 travelling fans from Derbyshire, the visitors scored in the 37th minute from a free kick many in the ground thought should have gone the other way and a 63rd minute penalty that even the away team seemed surprised to be awarded.
Wisbech fought back with a superb goal from striker Sam Bennett in the 79th minute and nearly clinched a draw in stoppage time when a superb save from visiting keeper Saul Deeny kept out a Danny Draper volley.
With the wind behind them, the champions had the best of the first half and should have scored after 15 minutes when Montel Gibson's shot was superbly saved by home keeper Luke Pearson and the rebound was ballooned over by former Notts County striker Remaye Campbell.
That was it for the visitors as an attacking force until a bizarre episode eight minutes before the break which saw two Wisbech players needing physio treatment after tackles flew in on the edge of the home box and yet a free kick awarded to Ilkeston.
It did seem that a Fenman player was the first player fouled, but whatever the argument, Kieran Fenton's sumptuous 20 yard free kick gave the Robins the lead and was worthy of winning a title.
The visitors did not want to rest on their laurels either and continued to attack, Pearson again proving his worth with a great save at his near post to deny Campbell just before half time.
After the break, Ilkeston seemed to cope better with the wind against them than Wisbech did, and won a penalty three minutes after the hour when one of their men went down in the box after a clip on the heels.
Again, the award from referee Alistair Wilson seemed fortunate for the Robins but, again, the finish was clinical as Campbell rolled in the goal which all but guaranteed the title.
Next came a totally unnecessary five minutes as ref Wilson booked the Robins' manager, assistant and one of their subs in the space of five minutes for things said from the bench. The cards left the crowd perplexed and stalled the momentum of the game.
But Wisbech, who had kept a solid shape throughout the game, kept their focus and scored a superb goal 11 minutes from time when a great ball from midfielder Finlay Armond found Bennett in space and the striker scored his 11th goal in just 18 starts for Wisbech. If he stays at his home-town club next season, expect 30-plus goals at Step 5.
The resolve brought into the club by Ross (see his comments here) was evident in a last ten minutes when the new champions were not allowed to coast home. The home side chased and fought for every ball and were nearly rewarded with a deserved equaliser in added on time when Draper's superb effort brought an even better save from the visiting keeper.
So a disappointing season came to its finale with a 30th defeat from 38 Step 4 matches for the Fenmen, who are deservedly relegated.
But Step 5 is a different level and if Ross can keep a nucleus involving keeper Pearson, central defenders Wilson and Keeble, midfielders Murphy and Maddison and forward players Draper and Bennett, the home faithful can expect a much more enjoyable season in 2022/23.
Wisbech Town: Pearson, Newman, Taylor, Keeble, Wilson (Lewis 74), Maddison, (Hempson 78), Vieira (Lukyamuzi 78), Armond, Bennett, Murphy, Draper.
Ilkeston Town: Deeney, Verma, Bennent (Goodson 26 mins), Bradley (Reid 84), Irvine, Fenton, Thomas, Bird, Campbell, Gibson (Troke 76), Brown-Hill. Subs (not used): Maguire, Carvell.
Star man: It has to be Sam Bennett again. Always a threat, always concentrating, so vital to Wisbech's future.