Surprises, departures, returns, controversy and a sniff of Wembley - story of the Tigers’ season so far

Worksop Town v Pickering Town
Worksop Town v Pickering Town

Worksop Town are halfway there, and living on much more than a prayer in their first season of NCEL Premier League football.

When Tigers kicked off their 2014/15 season at Armthorpe Welfare in August, it was very much a voyage into the unknown.

A very young Worksop side made a good first impression, looking to play the game the right way, delighting a support that actually swelled rather than dwindled, despite a two-division fall from grace.

A new league, lots of new faces in the ranks and new, sometimes rustic, venues to visit - but the same old Tigers?

Goals were flying in at both ends in the first month of the season, as they did with Mark Shaw’s class of 2013/14.

But from September onwards, although the slick, passing football remained, a mean defence began to develop – Tigers conceding just 20 goals in 22 games.

Much was made of the stellar form of Luke Shiels.

It can’t be argued, the centre-half was talismanic and appeared to have come back strongly from his long, surgery enforced break.

At the other end of the pitch, Andre Johnson impressed with his eye for goal, quickly becoming the club’s top scorer.

Neither player would reach Christmas at Sandy Lane however, Shiels joining Conference North Harrogate and Johnson moving to Matlock.

If Shiels’ departure was one of the low points of the first half of the campaign, the re-signings of Jon Stewart, Tom Burgin and Conor Higginson were surely among the highlights.

All three players slotted back into the team seamlessly, unsurprising given their undoubted ability to play at least three levels higher.

The form of Alex Pursehouse has been every bit as good as you’d expect, both as an attacking force at wing-back, and a steady head at sweeper.

Wearing the armband and marshaling midfield, Jake Scott has evidently relished his new leadership responsibilities and contributed both on and off the field to the club’s progress.

Shaw’s knack for unearthing a gem is evident in the form of Conor Sellars, 13 goals from midfield and four sensational direct free-kicks making him an instant fan favourite.

New boys Sam Liversidge, Connor Smythe and Jono Wafula have all grown and improved, with several others chipping in with important performances – including the sometimes unfairly maligned Mitch Husbands, local lad Matt Booth, diminuitive livewire Jack Hawkins and son of a Tigers legend Jack Waddle.

But perhaps the surprise package of the season to date has been home-grown talent Tom Elliott.

Classy on the ball, industrious in pursuit of it and intelligent in almost everything he has done, Elliott has become nigh on undroppable.

The season has not been without its disappointments.

Disappearing from the FA Cup without so much as a whimper, simply failing to turn up at Swallownest in the Sheffield Senior Cup and showing naivety in the face of experienced sides like Shaw Lane and Tadcaster have given the young Tigers plenty to think about.

But it just can’t be stated enough – this team is a Phoenix from the ashes of a club who very nearly went up in smoke.

There overwhelming feeling at the midpoint of 2014/15 must be positive.

From nothing, the fans and some club officials created something to be proud of.

Worksop has a team, a very good team, in with a chance of promotion and giving bumper crowds an awful lot to shout about week in and week out.

The 7-0 mauling of Retford, the hard earned point at Heanor and a win in the ‘Sandy Lane derby,’ not to mention a magnificent FA Vase run that has given the town more than a vague sniff of a Wembley appearance.

Controversy (see: Tadcaster at home), drama (see: every time they play it out from the back, giving the veterans in the main stand heart palpitations) and community spirit (see: soccer camp, school visits and new club chaplain) have made it an interesting and compelling journey thus far.

Whisper it, but perhaps dropping to this level might end up building a stronger Worksop Town FC in the long run.

As far as 2014/15 goes – so far, so good.

Happy Christmas to everyone at Worksop Town, here’s to a happy new year.