Wingate & Finchley bounced back from back-to-back defeats earlier in the week, as they recorded a fine win at Merstham to end a schedule which saw them play six games in just two weeks, writes Andy Gerlis.
Hard-to-swallow losses in the FA Cup against Weston-Super-Mare and the League against Canvey Island had lowered the tone around The Harry Abrahams Stadium, but Simon Lane’s men have shown a never-say-die spirit throughout the entire campaign and went into Saturday’s game with confidence against a team with just one win in their last ten games.
The home side were handed the first chance of the game after 12 minutes, Charlie Penny finding himself clean through on goal but managing to trip over his own feet before being able to pull the trigger. Mark Goodman found himself in acres of space – as was the case for much of the game – six minutes later, but his cross evaded Lee Barney and Tommy Tejan-Sie as they both tried to get a touch on the ball. Both teams continued to feel each other out and Jack Metcalfe was the first keeper called into action as he reacted well to push away Reece Hall’s powerful, deflected shot after 26 minutes.
As a reminder of the importance of a great save, Wingate went on to take the lead just a minute later when Ola Sogbanmu controlled Tejan-Sie’s free kick on his chest and placed his half-volley past Yannick Makiese in the Merstham net. Goodman came close to doubling Wingate’s lead within a minute, but his cross floated over Makiese’s head and cracked against the crossbar.
The tempo of the game only really sped up towards the end of the half, Sogbanmu’s towering but tame header from a Tejan-Sie cross 40 minutes in was unable to get the better of Makiese, while Stefan Cox flashed a pass across the face of Metcalfe’s goal three minutes later with the keeper stretching well to knock the ball out for a corner. With Merstham crowding the area Cox’s cross fell to Tom Kavanagh, but the midfielder could only watch as his effort deflected inches wide of the woodwork. Keeping the pressure on and opting for a short corner this time, Kavanagh and Cox again exchanged a quick one-two before the latter drove into the box and smashed a shot into the side netting. While half the ground thought it had gone in, Wingate instead went in to half-time with a slender yet comfortable lead.
Marc Weatherstone’s goalbound header four minutes after the restart was flicked over the bar by Barney as the striker inadvertently did the goalkeeper’s job for him and, while Penny’s diving header from a first-time Hall cross curled around the outside of Metcalfe’s post 13 minutes later, the goalkeeper needed to remain alert to palm Kavanagh’s free shot from the edge of the area away from danger a minute after. Seeking out an equaliser, Tommy Hutchings toe-poked a shot just over the bar with 22 minutes left on the clock but five minutes later and with the wind flowing out of Merstham’s sails, Leon Solomon forced a strong save out of Makiese after Barney was brought down on the edge of the box.
Hutchings continued to make a nuisance of himself and when he latched on to a perfectly weighted Dan Brown pass behind the Merstham defence with 15 minutes left, he wasted no time in rolling the ball under an on-rushing keeper and into the corner of the net for his first league goal of the season. Karl Oliyide found himself in an identical situation six minutes later, but his shot only squeezed under the keeper and past the woodwork.
Wingate held much of the pressure towards the end, Tejan-Sie unable to generate enough power in his shot from an 83rd minute Sogbanmu cross to beat the keeper, while Barney managed to round Makiese three minutes later but his touch was heavy and Michael Olewaraju was able to get a sliding block in. Penny planted a header on to the roof of the Wingate net with a couple of minutes left on the clock, but there was never any real danger of Metcalfe being denied a clean sheet.
A win away from home and a solid display in all areas of the pitch was the perfect ending to a tough run of fixtures and just what the Blues needed to put the memories of a couple of disappointing defeats behind them. With two postponements meaning Wingate now have an enormous week and a half break before their next competitive fixture; the Blues can award themselves a well-deserved break before returning to action at home against Hampton & Richmond on Tuesday week.
Merstham FC: Makiese (GK), Cooper (Hall 19) (Rose 70), Douglas, Peter, Olarewaju, Samuels, Cox (Folkes 70), Kavanagh, Penny, Hutchings (C), Sariva
Subs not used: Fowles, Hall, Rose, Caracciolo, Gonsalves
Wingate and Finchley FC:
Metcalfe (GK), Goodman, Solomon, Watson, Rifat, Weatherstone (C), Tejan-Sie, Brown, Barney, Oliyide (Healey 75), Sogbanmu (Powell 85)
Subs not used: Hewitt, Powell, Tison-Lascaris, Healey
WingateTV interviews with Daniel Brown and Ahmet Rifat: