Wingate and Finchley missed out on the chance to end 2015 in a play-off spot and on a winning note as they suffered a late 2-1 loss at home to Enfield Town, writes Andy Gerlis.
A feisty affair, Billy Healey had given the Blues a slender 1-0 half-time lead before Bobby Devyne levelled things up shortly after the restart.
And though both sides were looking good for a point, Claudio Vilcu’s 90th minute strike meant Enfield left Finchley with all three points.
The game saw Wingate record the highest attendance of any game they’ve appeared in this season, but the home support will feel aggrieved that their team failed to come away from the game with at least a point.
The match began with all the flair of a local derby – tackles were strong and the tension was stronger – but this failed to translate into any real early action.
Leon Solomon picked out Healey on the edge of the box seven minutes in, but the striker’s curling shot was saved and held well by Enfield goalkeeper Nathan McDonald.
But the game began to kick into life as the half went on. Striding forward from the back after 28 minutes, Tarik Azille-Moore rode three tackles before releasing the ball to his defensive partner Marc Weatherstone. The captain in turn fed Healey through on goal, but the striker saw his shot met by an excellent, fingertip save from Mcdonald.
It was Wingate’s goalkeeper called into action next as Bobby Smith had to be alert to tip Harry Ottaway’s goalbound free-kick over the bar with ten minutes left of the half.
But in the 37th minute, Tommy Tejan-Sie’s sweeping ball found Mark Goodman in space on the edge of the box. Though the full-back’s powerful effort was saved by Mcdonald, he could only parry the ball on to the head of Healey and watch as it trickled over the line to put Wingate 1-0 up.
And from almost nothing, Enfield were nearly level just two minutes later. Weatherstone’s backpass fell to Smith’s weaker foot and, before he could sort his feet out, Tayshan Hayden-Smith pounced on to the loose ball.
But his initial shot was blocked by Smith’s legs and Mark Goodman was back on the line to clear Stanley Muguo’s follow up attempt away from danger, ensuring Wingate held their lead into half-time.
But it was the away side who came out swinging at the start of the second half. Within a minute, Evans Kouassi saw his volley on the turn bend just wide of Smith’s post, before another sloppy backpass from Weatherstone meant Smith to be quick off his line to block Ottaway’s shot after he seized on the loose ball.
But the Blues failed to heed Enfield’s warnings and found themselves level after 58 minutes. Corey Whitely – who had taken to the field as a substitute just seconds earlier – laid the ball through to Bobby Devyne who chopped the ball on to his left foot and rifled a shot in past Smith.
With the game finely poised, momentum switched between the two sides as each counter attacked the other. With 72 minutes gone a quick breakaway saw Healey lay the ball off for Tejan-Sie to drive into the box, but the midfielder could only smash his shot into the side netting.
A minute later at the other end an identical chance fell for Whitely but, much to Wingate’s relief, his finish was identical too. Karl Oliyide could have put Wingate ahead seconds after, but Healey’s skimmed cross was just behind the attacker and he could only kick at the air.
But just as it appeared that the spoils were to be shared, a deep cross in the 90th minute eventually found its way to an unmarked Claudio Vilcu who rolled the ball into the bottom corner to snatch a victory for Enfield.
A tough derby defeat to swallow for Wingate, but they won’t have to wait long for a chance at revenge – they travel Enfield for a Ryman League Cup quarter final clash on Tuesday 5th January.
But before that it’s just the small task of Saturday’s trip to Hendon. No rivalry problems there, then.
Wingate and Finchley:
Smith, Goodman, Solomon, Sogbanmu (Oliyide 58), Weatherstone, Azille-Moore, Powell, Tejan-Sie, Healey, Rifat, Laney (Austin 80)
Metcalfe, Sharpe, Grantham
McDonald, Doyle, Bihmoutine, Vilcu, Joseph, Muguo, Hayden-Smith (Whitely 57), Livings (Parcell 85), Devyne, Ottaway, Kouassi (Stevens 72)
Man of the Match:
WingateTV interview with Simon Lane: