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Leafield Athletic 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 4
Wolverhampton Wanderers ended a five year exile from the Premier League by clinching the Midland Combination title with a 4-1 victory over Leafield Athletic at the Triplex Sports Ground on Thursday.
The margin of victory disguised a tough contest against tenacious opponents but Wolves had created a host of chances and attacked with flair and invention throughout the match, only to be denied time after time by the Leafield defence, the woodwork and fine goalkeeping by Lucy Whatley. Having equalised just after the break, Leafield kept the Wolves attack at bay until late in the half, testing the nerves.of the many followers of the title chasers. Two very late goals were perhaps harsh on the home team but reward for relentless pressure by the visitors.
The pattern of the match was set early on with Wolves pressing, forcing a series of corners, hitting the bar with a header on five minutes but Leafield were very close to the opener on 14 minutes when Hayley Phillipowsky was left unattended ten yards out and curled a shot inches wide of Natalie Hall's goal.
Wolves got the breakthrough on 18 minutes when some Becky Hall trickery near the left corner set up Jamillah Palmer for a powerful drive from the edge of the area. Palmer, who had a fine match, nearly doubled the lead on 26 minutes but was denied by a Whatley save. Leafield were confined to the odd breakaway as Wolves sought to extend their lead but had to be content with a single goal at the break.
Leafield returned with positive intent and Natalie Hall had to produce a super tip over to deny Phillipowsky from close range. However, her defence failed to deal with the subsequent corner and the ball was forced home from close range on 47 minutes.
Wolves were stung into action as the prospect of a nervous final fixture at Radcliffe Olympic became a possibility. Waves of attacks were repelled and the ball seemed destined to avoid entering the Leafield goal. Finally, with the corner tally well into double figures, Hannah Williams was able to force the ball over the line after a goalmouth scramble on 65 minutes.
Whilst Wolves were in control and creating chances, another Leafield goal would have foiled the title celebrations. As the clock ticked down, Becky Hall hit the bar with a glorious free kick from 20 yards after a foul on Dani Selmes but,just as the danger seemed to have passed, Rebecca Large steered a precise finish into the net for the crucial third on 85 minutes. Playing like worthy champions, Wolves continued to press and were rewarded in stoppage time with another precise finish by.Amber Quick who had gone close to scoring on several occasions.
Wolves join Newcastle United, Yeovil Town and Lewes in wnning the four Combination titles. Stoke City had led the Midlands table for months as Wolves gradually caught up their fixture backlog, but were caught with a match to spare after a Wolves season containing just a single defeat to Curzon Ashton. The return to the Premier League has been long awaited and was celebrated in customary style by all concerned.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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