New manager Keith Rowland’s search for a win continues after his Wingate and Finchley side were held at home by bottom placed Lewes, writes Andy Gerlis.
Stacey Freeman’s early header gave the visitors a lead that, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Chris Winterton, they held on to for well over an hour.
But a foul on Billy Healey with six minutes to go allowed the striker to net his 15th goal of the season from the penalty spot, earning the Blues a well fought point.
The result leaves Wingate in 8th place, three points outside the playoff zone and level with Tuesday’s opponents Enfield.
Despite coming into the game rooted to the bottom of the table, 14 points from safety, Lewes were buoyant having won for just the third time this season a week prior.
And their self-belief was clear as they took the lead after just 10 minutes. Leon Redwood collected the scraps of a deep free kick just outside Wingate’s box, before floating in a cross that allowed Freeman to head Lewes 1-0 up with his first goal of the campaign.
And, but for Marc Weatherstone’s goalline block, Alex Mallins’ shot-cum-corner would have would have doubled their lead seven minutes later.
Healey could have pulled Wingate level half an hour in but the striker, latching on to Alfie Bartram’s cutting pass, saw his shot blocked away by Winterton’s legs.
And though the striker found himself one on one again at the stroke of half time, Winterton managed to grab hold of his attempted chip over the Lewes keeper to see the visitors’ lead into the break.
However, Rowland’s side knew they were down but not out and came out fighting at the start of the second half.
Healey curled a shot just wide of Winterton’s post before coming within inches a tap in off Dan Brown’s deflected shot inside the first ten minutes.
And the striker, Wingate’s current top scorer, might have felt it just wasn’t going to be his day as Winterton flew across the face of goal to tip away his header 55 minutes in.
But Winterton wasn’t just targeting Healey, and he proved this by palming Tommy Tejan-Sie’s curling effort away from the top corner ten minutes later.
And even when Weatherstone’s 79th minute header finally beat the Lewes keeper, Steve Brinkhurst was back on the line to hoof the ball away.
This meant Wingate’s keeper Bobby Smith was finally given a chance to display his own impressive goalkeeping skills when he rose to claw away James Fraser’s rising shot off the back of the resulting counter-attack.
Smith was able to demonstrate his distribution when the following corner went out for a goal kick, and his long punt upfield was flicked on by Healey for Karl Oliyide to run in behind the Rooks’ defence. But, keen not to been outshone, Winterton stood up firm to block away the attacker’s shot with his chest.
Cracks were beginning to form in Lewes’ stern defence however, and when Oliyide repaid Healey for the earlier pass by playing him through on goal six minutes from time, captain Lee Carey mistimed his tackle and hauled the striker down inside the box.
And in spite of his heroics throughout the game, Winterton was finally beaten by Healey’s low penalty into the bottom corner.
Tired from the battle, both sides had to settle for a point, meaning Rowland will have to wait a short while longer before overseeing his first Wingate victory.
But you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere better to do that than in the quarter-finals of the Ryman League Cup against your local rivals – so it’s very convenient Wingate travel to Enfield for that exact fixture on Tuesday.
WingateTV interviews with Keith Rowland and Billy Healey:
Smith, Goodman, Solomon, Sogbanmu, Weatherstone ©, Rifat, Brown, Tejan-Sie, Healey, Laney (Oliyide, 73), Bartram (Powell, 79).
Unused Subs: Hewitt, Sharpe, Metcalfe.
Winterton, Brinkhurst, Redwood, Carey ©, Freeman, Mallins, Muggeridge (Hammond, 73), Cotton, McCreadie, Laing (Fraser, 74), Okojie (Conlon, 89).
Unused Subs: Merida, Hutchins.