Wingate & Finchley's final home pre-season game ended in a well fought draw against Conference South side, Hemel Hempstead. The Blues got off to a flying start, similar to Saturday's win over Slough Town. Kyle Watson made a superb run down the left hand side, squared the ball to Meshach Williams, whose shot was parried into the air by Hemel keeper, Jamie Head, but Rob Laney was on hand to tap in to give Wingate the lead on five minutes. However, the lead only lasted 10 minutes as Ahmet Rifat's foul in the penalty box gave the visitors a chance to level the score - and former Tottenham striker Jamie Slabber made no mistake from 12 yards, sending Bobby Smith the wrong way.
On 25 minutes, Wingate had the chance to regain the lead but Karl Oliyide fired his shot wide of the Hemel goal from just outside the penalty area from a Williams pass. It was Oliyide again who had Wingate's next chance, on 31 minutes, but his deft chip was well read by Head and the Hemel 'keeper prevented Oliyide from scoring what would have been an excellent goal. Williams was at the heart of the action for Wingate and his cross on 35 minutes was met by Laney, who was prevented a brace by an outstanding save from Head, parrying the ball brilliantly over the bar from point blank range, leaving Laney with his head in his hands. The final chance of the half, dominated by Wingate, fell to the visitors. Quick interchanging passes between James Potton and Slabber led to the former's shot curling just over the bar from outside the area.
The visitors came flying out of the blocks in the second half and could have taken the lead inside 60 seconds, but Ian Rees' shot flew inches above substitute goalkeeper Jack Metcalfe's crossbar. Metcalfe was then on hand to parry Dennis Oli's shot over the bar on 60 minutes. However, the visitors did take the lead from the resulting corner, Rees heading home to complete the turnaround. An equaliser was on the cards but Ola Sogbanmu struck the post on 70 minutes, after working his way into the box and cutting in onto his favoured right foot.
Coby Rowe and Brad Hewitt managed to make a last ditched challenge on Slabber to prevent the visitors taking a 3-1 lead on 82 minutes, before Kieron Street's excellent goal line clearance prevented Jemal Lowe from scoring three minutes later. Wingate's resilience at the back and persistence in attack paid off when Micah Jackson was played in behind, beat the offside trap and squared to Jack Read to tap home a well deserved equaliser on 89 minutes, the game ending 2-2.
After the game, Rob Laney spoke about pre-season as a whole, as well as the performance versus Hemel Hempstead: "We started very quickly and hit them very early with the goal. The penalty incident with Ahmet (Rifat) was unfortunate but it took us a while to get back into the game. But we deserved the equaliser, a great goal by Jack (Read). We're working hard and we're well set for the new season to begin!"
On pre-season as a whole: "It's been a good pre-season. The 9-2 win versus Hertford was comfortable but the double header versus Colney and Thamesmead didn't go as we'd hoped. We came back well versus Royston, we played them off the park, and the same in the first half against Slough. Our passing versus Slough was superb, although we gave them too much respect and let them get back into it. For me personally, I've scored a few of goals now but I wish I'd got a few more. I've been given responsibility to score some more goals and I'm happy I've managed to gain the confidence to do so in pre-season. The team is taking great shape and people like Michael Buckley, Tommy Tejan-Sie, Ola Sogbanmu, Martel Powell and Karl Oliyide are helping us in midfield. We're excited for the season to begin now."
Opposition striker Jamie Slabber had this to say about the game and Wingate: "From our (Hemel) perspective, it was a good workout and great to get on the scoresheet. Wingate dominated the first half and kept the ball much better, but we improved in the the second half - a draw was a pretty fair result. Wingate are a top, young side that like to play good football and have some good players in the squad, too. I think they'll have a good season in 2015/16."
Report by Nikhil Saglani