In Sam Dexter’s first full season in charge of Ilkley Town AFC, they have consistently defied expectation and are flying high in fifth spot in the playoff positions, writes Evan Seaman.
There have been plenty of highs and lows this campaign, but this one feels truly special as they have the chance to get promoted to the ninth tier of English football for the first time in their history.
Ilkley supporter, Tom Lambe, believes they have had a very good season as well when he says, “I’ve been really impressed this season with Ilkley, some of the football has been brilliant to watch.”
A lot of the fans who have watched Ilkley this season would say that the game of the season has to be the 6-0 victory against Harrogate Railway Athletic at the MPM stadium back on the 25th of October 2022 in the first round of the West Riding County Cup.
It could be argued this result gave them the platform to go and pick up some other impressive wins in the league, including when they beat league leaders Pilkington away from home 3-2.
But several of Ilkley’s new signings have also stepped up to the plate this season, with Alfie Dean being one of the standout players after breaking into the first team. In 16 games, Dean has scored six goals and won six MOTM awards, proving his credentials at semi-pro level.
Other Ilkley players who have had great seasons include new goalkeeper Charlie Bell who has achieved five clean sheets in 18 appearances, James Nightingale who has been instrumental in midfield alongside skipper Harry Brown, and Matthew Swift, who has been rock solid at the back.
Its not just on the pitch where The Baht’atters have flourished as these good performances from the players has given the club a wider fanbase. Ilkley also greatly enhanced their reputation when they brought in Bradford City player Luke Hendrie as a coach for a few weeks at the beginning of the season.
In terms of the goal of the season, there are many contenders. There is Alfie Dean’s free-kick goal against Cleator Moor - from about 25 yards out - which helped the team go onto win 4-3.
Or there is Kevin Gonzalez’s injury time winner against AFC Blackpool back on the 10th of December 2022. Although it may not have been the prettiest of goals, it has proved to be hugely significant in the push for the playoffs.
To conclude, I think it has to be said that not many expected Ilkley to do so well this season considering that they just scraped survival at the end of last season. So if they reach the playoffs they will undoubtedly be the underdogs, although this could work in their favour because they’ll be playing with no pressure.