Following a hard-to-swallow, controversial defeat midweek at home to Canvey Island, Wingate needed a strong performance away from Summers Lane to get their form back on track, writes Andy Gerlis.
It wasn’t going to be easy though as they travelled 80 miles down the M23 to the Green Elephant Stadium – home of newly promoted Burgess Hill Town FC. This is a team bursting with confidence who find themselves in the highest league position in the club’s history, sitting in seventh place of the Ryman Premier Division having only lost one game in the last eight, and they went in to this game a point clear of the Blues, although they had played two games more. This game saw the debut of Daniel Brown – a burly central midfielder signed from Wealdstone FC that has already played under manager Simon Lane at Maidenhead United and alongside a number of first team players.
The first half had barely begun before Burgess Hill physio Danielle Peters had to rush on the field. But while fans looked towards the players to see who had gone down nine minutes into the game, Peters ran straight to the opposite touchline to tend to linesman Chris Hamilton who appeared to have pulled his hamstring. A shake of the head indicated that he couldn’t continue and it meant a 20 minute delay to the game while an emergency replacement was sourced from the crowd. Just five minutes after restarting it was referee Simon Finnigan’s turn to be the centre of attention, ignoring loud Wingate appeals for a penalty when the ball appeared to strike a raised Hillian arm in a crowded penalty area. It is often said that referees often try to steal the limelight in a game of football and it certainly appeared to be the case when Finnigan went down with cramp in the 27th minute. With the risk of the game having to be abandoned, possibly the loudest cheer for a referee running on to a pitch in football history was raised when he eventually got back up to his feet.
With the flow of the match disrupted, both sides found it hard to get a real rhythm going and few chances materialised. Leon Solomon managed to cut inside before releasing a left footed shot twice in the 34th minute, firing inches wide of the post and crossbar respectively. When Wingate captain Marc Weatherstone’s clearance clipped fellow centre-back Ahmet Rifat’s heels seven minutes later, Dan Perry found himself clean through to the left of Bobby Smith’s goal but could only drag his shot wide across the face. In a half where neither side was able to able get going, a 0-0 draw at half time seemed a fair result.
Burgess Hill were out the blocks fastest after the restart, captain Darron Budd put a free kick wide in the 50th minute after Rifat was harshly penalised for a handball, before driving another shot off target seconds later. With ball played in the air for most of the game, it was always going to require a neat piece of play to cause a breakthrough. Tommy Tejan-Sie picked the ball up halfway in to the Burgess half and played a delightful, powered through ball between the defenders and on to the foot of Ola Sogbanmu who had made the run in behind. A dream pass for any striker and Sogbanmu duly tapped the ball home on the volley just inside the six-yard box 68 minutes in.
Complacency temporarily set in for the Blues a couple minutes later, when Burgess Hill’s top scorer Pat Harding was allowed to drive in to the box before finding substitute Phil Johnson. His first time shot was flicked away with Smith’s feet only as far as Joe Keehan waiting at the back post, the midfielder only able to wonder how he hadn’t scored as Tejan-Sie cleared his shot off the line. Launching a counter-attack, the ball eventually fell to striker Lee Barney at the other end of the pitch, but he saw his volley blocked away for a corner.
Long balls over the top was the motto for the game and when Chris Smith had one fall nicely at his feet behind the Wingate defence with 10 minutes left to play, it took all of Rifat’s energy to get back to cover and force the striker to shoot wide. Blues right-back Mark Goodman kept looking to drive forward from the back, though his 84th minute through ball to Barney required a defter touch than the one the striker provided and the ball trickled to the keeper. In injury time the defender again carved out a chance, his ball across the face of goal meeting the toe of Billy Healey and only a smart, fingertip save from goalkeeper Josh James prevented the striker from doubling Wingate’s lead in injury time.
Were it not for an impeccable, captain’s display of defending from Marc Weatherstone, the result could possibly have been very different on the day, but Wingate left Sussex with a clean sheet and three points. They now climb above Burgess Hill in the table and, with two games in as many days midweek, look to carry their energy and form from this match into the next.
WingateTV interviews with Marc Weatherstone and Daniel Brown:
Burgess Hill Town FC: Josh James, Toby Pointing, Sam Fisk, Darren Budd, Andy Pearson (Smith 65’), Will Miles, Scott Kirkwood, Joe Keehan, Dan Perry (Johnson 60’), Pat Harding, Lee Harding (Saunders 55’)
Unused subs: Chris Smith, Callum Saunders, Guy Bolton, Phil Johnson, Cam Wiltshire
Wingate and Finchley FC: Bobby Smith, Mark Goodman, Kyle Watson, Michael Buckley (Oliyide 60), Marc Weatherstone, Ahmet Rifat, Daniel Brown, Leon Solomon, Lee Barney (Healey 89), Tommy Tejan-Sie, Ola Sogbanmu (Laney 79)
Unused subs: Karl Oliyide, Rob Laney, Billy Healey, Martel Powell
Man Of The Match: