by Robert Lee · 24/03/2022
Wednesday 23rd March 2022, NWCFL First Division South
Barnton 1 (Hajri 71)
West 2 (Swift 46, Hooper 75)
West clinched promotion and the NWCFL First Division South title with victory at Barnton.
James Hooper's 75th-minute goal secured a 27th league win of the campaign, and more importantly three points that ensured West's lead at the top of the table became unassailable.
Joel Swift's strike ten seconds after the interval looked to have set the visitors on their way, but the Villagers were determined not to let West celebrate on their pitch and threatened to derail proceedings when Amir Hajri equalised with 19 minutes remaining.
An expectant travelling support packed into Townfield but there was precious little to cheer in an attritional opening 45 minutes. West dominated possession, but the home side proved an extremely tough nut to crack and Hooper came closest to breaking the deadlock when his shot was kicked away by keeper Arran Lyons.
Chris Rowley was posed a further conundrum when Sam Heathcote, who had played almost the entire first half with a knock, was unable to start the second period. But the referee's whistle had barely left his mouth following the restart when Swift chased down a loose ball and rolled the ball under Lyons to open the scoring.
Swift's goal opened the game up and Hooper hit the outside of the post after finding space in the box, before Delaney shaved the same upright with a half-volley from outside the area.
However, the Villagers refused to go away and West were punished for their failure to clear a corner when Hajri buried a low shot past Andrew Jones.
It almost got even worse for West moments later when the home side struck a post from a set-piece, but one of West's talismans this season produced a moment of brilliance to prise the Barnton defence back open. Dontai Gabidon's burst of creativity caught the Villagers back line out, and his low cross rebounded perfectly for Hooper to smash home from inside the six-yard box.
There was time for one further scare as the home side went close from a corner, but West had done enough both on the night and over the season - and can celebrate both a first league title since joining the NWCFL and a return to the Premier Division following a three-year exile.
West: A. Jones, Cook, Hancock, Delaney, Vayro, Heathcote (Dibble ht), Hooper, Davis, Elliott, Swift (Gavin 77), Eme (Gabidon 61). Not used: Westall, Matthews.
Eckersley's Plumbers & Locksmiths Player of the Match: Matty Cook.