There is a real positivity around Wingate & Finchley as the new season gets underway, such is the level of investment in the squad, and the words that are coming from the dressing room - a message of resolute defiance that the team will be hard to break down and will be a nuisance all game and all season for the opposition. You can understand Ahmet Rifat’s disappointment then with how today turned out, succumbing 4-0 at home to Folkestone Invicta to kick off the season.
“For the standards of this club, and for me, and for the standards they’ve set themselves, that today is nowhere near good enough”, said Rifat in his post-match debrief.
But it wasn’t that way throughout. The first half an hour was an even battle, with both sides looking for space (and generally finding it), looking to get the opening goal in a game that was fiercely contested. Matty Achuba and Ruben Carvalho came close for the home side, with Matty finding himself in a yard of space on the right corner of the penalty area. He used it to fire an arrow towards goal, but in the end it was comfortably pushed aside by Coleman in the Folkestone goal. Carvalho, for his chance, was in a similar position, this time on the left edge. He executed a nice bit of trickery to beat his man and get his shot off, but his attempt went just over the crossbar.
While you wouldn’t say the opening goal was against the run of play as such, as Folkestone had managed to carve out a few opportunities of their own in the opening stages, it did dramatically shift the momentum as both sides went into half-time. Andre Coker, who had looked lively in the first-half, managed to beat his man down the right hand side and whip a fantastic cross right across the face of goal, which fell perfectly into the path of an unmarked Ibrahim Olutade to tap home from point blank range. At 1-0 the game was still in the balance, with both sides looking to play football, and all three results were very much on the table as both sides came out for the second half.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Ryan Sellers wasn’t one of those who returned, as he picked up a knock in the first half - his replacement Bobby Webb, making his first team debut for the Blues, alongside eight other Wingate players throughout the course of the afternoon.
And any doubt as to the final result was swiftly put to bed by the visitors, who came out all guns blazing after half-time, scoring two more goals within eight minutes to start the second half.
The first, Olutade’s second, was the result of a long clearance from Ian Gayle in the Invicta defence, who headed the ball away from his own half, and split the Wingate defence in two. It allowed Olutade to bear down on goal, where he skillfully put the ball beyond Ben Goode’s reach to double his tally for the afternoon.
His hattrick came moments later as Kane Penn got himself to the byline for the visitors, pulling the ball back to Olutade, who reacted quickest and fizzed the ball into the roof of the goal.
From that point on, the game settled as Folkestone looked to manage the result. Wingate, to their credit, managed to string some passes together through the likes of debutant Zack Newton and returning Fans’ Player of the Season Elliot Long. Perhaps the best chance of the second half fell to Bobby Webb, who rose highest from a corner, but could only steer the ball over the crossbar.
As the game entered its dying moments, Folkestone striker David Smith was able to capitalise on some miscommunication between Mitchell-Nelson and Goode in the Wingate defence, to nip in between the pair and dribble the ball into the goal for the fourth goal of the game. It was a moment that summed up the afternoon for a Blues side who just weren’t quite at the races.
“The only positive I can say”, said Rifat, “is that it happened in the first game of the season. We just won’t allow that to happen again”. That will certainly be the hope as the side makes the very short trip to Haringey Borough on Tuesday, with the opportunity to put things right very quickly, against a Haringey side who themselves lost 3-2, having been 2-0 with less than twenty minutes to play. Last season’s meetings between the two sides saw one goal in 5 hours of football (a last minute extra time winner in the London Senior Cup semi-final), and so there is no doubt that the contest will be very close throughout.
“The boys need to bounce back, and show not just myself, but each other the reaction that’s needed”. That will indeed be the aim, as this season picks up pace very quickly.
Our next home game is against Kingstonian on 26th August, kick off at 3pm.
Wingate & Finchley: Goode; Frempah; Sellers (Webb 46’); Bani; Mitchell-Nelson; Frimpong; Gharett-Douglas; Newton; Chukwu; Carvalho (Long 72’); Achuba (Roberts 87’). Unused subs: Seager; Nazor