The old saying goes that you should judge the strength of a team not when times are good, but when they are faced with adversity.
The last few weeks have been little else but adversity for the Blues, losing games they perhaps should have won, having troubles in front of goal, and injuries running through the first team squad. And so when adversity reckoned again on the south coast on Saturday afternoon, as a dubious penalty was awarded and gladly converted to reduce Wingate’s lead to one goal, you felt the final 30 minutes were a real test for the strength of this team. In similar circumstances against Whitehawk in August, the barrage was overwhelming and they succumbed to draw the game despite holding a three goal lead. Faced with a repeat a couple of months later, they had a chance to show character and hold firm in tough conditions.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that the team passed the test with flying colours in hostile conditions to preserve their lead, and leave Sussex three points to the good.
Frankly, they managed the final half an hour expertly, and if anything it was Wingate & Finchley who looked more likely to score in the final moments, as Elliot Long saw a shot superbly blocked by a Hastings defender to keep the home side only one goal down, and Ryan Sellers put a freekick from a good position just over the bar.
Ben Goode was imperious in goal, claiming cross after cross that came into his box, and he was ably supported by a backline and midfield that worked tirelessly all afternoon. Manny Yeboah deserves special recognition for his work rate, throwing his body around even as the clock ticked over the 96 minute mark.
He must have been feeling it in his legs, given the speed and intensity of the second fifty minutes of the game. It was all kicked off by Elliot Long and Ben Siggers, who closed down the keeper when he came to collect a routine ball. He fell into his own defender and dropped the ball, delivering it on a silver platter to Long, who was able to tap home from no distance at all to score his first of the afternoon and give the Blues a lead; a lead they would hold for the entire afternoon.
His second and third were much classier, and both occurred within 7 minutes of the first (excluding the break for half time). The first was a beautiful chip over the goalkeeper when through one on one, and the second a shot rifled under the keeper to beat him at his near post and close out his hattrick after just 52 minutes.
If there was an element of good fortune (or bad goalkeeping) for one or two of the Blues’ goals, then there was some misfortune for the hosts’ goals. Ryan Sellers looked to have been elbowed in the face in the middle of the field, and his resulting absence in defence left a big hole for Oyebola to fire a rocket past Goode only three minutes after Long’s third goal.
The second was a dubious penalty awarded. Christian Frimpong found himself on the wrong side of Davide Rodari as he strode into the box, and despite his display to the referee before any potential contact had been made that he had no interest in fouling the attacker, the Hastings man went down and duly won, and then converted the penalty kick.
However, when it would have been easier to crumble and let the game slip from their grip, the team were defiant in holding out for the three points in what was a hostile environment.
It’s a mindset and performance that they will look to bank and take on this hectic October run, with Horsham the next side to visit the Maurice Rebak stadium on Tuesday night.
Wingate & Finchley: Goode; Garrett-Douglas; Sellers; Yeboah; Frempah; Frimpong; Ifil (Williams 77’); Carvalho (Francis-Adeyinka 82’); Chukwu; Long; Siggers (Biler 69’)
Unused Subs: Nazor; Webb