Loan Watch: Oladapo Afolayan and Aji Alese celebrate promotion
Oladapo Afolayan and Ajibola Alese both celebrated promotion from League Two with their adopted clubs this weekend, with a total of four West Ham United loanees in action.
Afolayan and Alese’s respective teams – Bolton Wanderers and Cambridge United – both sealed automatic promotion with victories in Saturday’s final round of fixtures, after Morecambe had run both sides close in the table.
For 23-year-old Afolayan, the vital victory also arrived with a first goal for the Trotters in their 4-1 win at ten-man Crawley Town.
Bolton got off to the perfect start after nine minutes at Broadfield Stadium when captain Antoni Sarcevic found the top corner with a superb finish, before Afolayan – once again deployed on the left of an attacking triumvirate – saw a low effort well saved.
He was not to be deterred, however, and 26 minutes into his 21st game for the Wanderers, Afolayan ran into space inside the area and – from Gethin Jones’ lay-off – dispatched the ball emphatically.
Crawley then lost George Francomb to a second yellow card after half-an-hour after the home team captain brought down the West Ham loanee cynically.
Bolton continued to dominate and added further strikes in the second half through Eoin Doyle and Lloyd Isgrove, nullifying Davide Rodari’s last-minute consolation for the hosts.
After such an impressive display, Afolayan and his teammates were overjoyed at full-time, with the 23-year-old having played a huge part in Bolton’s magnificent run of form which led to their promotion.
When Afolayan arrived on loan on 1 February, the Trotters were in 19th place in League Two – but 15 wins, three draws and three defeats, all featuring Afolayan, Ian Evatt's team finished third.
“I’m delighted, it has been emotional," he said at full-time. "It has been a long season. I joined halfway through and the boys weren’t in the best position in the league, so to be able to go up means everything to me, to the boys, and I know the fans as well.”
Also enjoying a weekend to remember was defender Aji Alese, who saw his adopted Cambridge United side thrash Grimsby Town 3-0 at Abbey Stadium – sealing second place and, with it, automatic promotion.
The 20-year-old was an unused substitute for the fixture, and made only two appearances during his loan spell, but will have gained plenty from experiencing the regular rigours of senior football with the U’s.
Alese recently signed a new contract with West Ham United until the summer of 2023, having first joined the Club aged just seven.
The U’s are going up!🆙— Aji Alese (@AjiAlese) May 9, 2021
Proud of everyone involved!
Looking forward to next season!⏩ pic.twitter.com/8xEqqw50T4
A third Hammer rounding off a productive League Two campaign on Saturday was 22-year-old defender Olatunji Akinola, whose 33rd league appearance of the campaign came in the O’s 3-0 defeat at Salford City.
The versatile Akinola has featured across the whole defensive line for Orient this season, and started at centre-back during the loss at Peninsula Stadium as interim manager Jobi McAnuff’s team finished in eleventh place in the table.
A solid performer over the course of the season, Akinola can celebrate playing his part in no fewer than 14 clean sheets for Orient in the league, as well as making an FA Cup debut against Newport County in November.
Elsewhere, Xande Silva and Aris Thessaloniki missed the chance to go second in Super League Greece as they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at PAOK in the Derby of Thessaloniki.
Having been champions Olympiakos’ nearest challengers for most of the season, Aris have struggled since the league split and are now four games without a win.
Bidding to finish ahead of PAOK for the first time since 2007/08, Aris’ latest defeat means that they trail their local rivals by five points with just two games left to play, having also lost to them at home three weeks ago.
Silva started Sunday’s game at Toumba Stadium as central striker – his 32nd appearance of the season – but could do little to influence a one-sided match before being withdrawn before the hour mark, with PAOK going on to score twice inside the final quarter of the game.
Aris are, however, assured of their qualification for the Europa Conference League second qualifying round, and will now hope to fend off AEK Athens – who trail them by a point, and who host them in their season finale next week – to secure third place.
Young midfielder Alfie Lewis made his third start of the season on loan for St Patrick’s Athletic, as they suffered a first League of Ireland Premier Division defeat of the season, going down 2-1 at home to Shamrock Rovers on Saturday.
Despite the Pat’s taking the lead after just four minutes at Richmond Park through Chris Forrester's strike, Graham Burke equalised for Shamrock Rovers on the stroke of half-time, before the visitors stole it at the death through Daniel Mandiou’s clinical finish.
The result leaves St Patrick’s Athletic in second place in the early-season table, five points behind Shamrock Rovers after ten games gone.
In the Championship, Winston Reid was an unused substitute for Brentford in their 3-1 win away at Bristol City.
Having already been assured of third place in the table, Reid will now hope to help the Bees navigate the play-offs, starting with a semi-final trip to Bournemouth next week.
And in the Swiss Super League, Gonçalo Cardoso was named among the substitutes in FC Basel’s 2-0 defeat at confirmed champions Young Boys – a loss which sees them remain in second place, but only on goal difference, and only two points ahead of fourth-placed Luzern in the race for European football.