At one point in the second half, the travelling Wingate & Finchley faithful were singing the tune to the Great Escape in West Sussex.
It was a strangely appropriate tune given the state of the game that was unfolding in Horsham on a pleasantly mild February afternoon. The Blues had found themselves on the back foot for the majority of the first half, despite never really looking too troubled defensively.
Horsham’s distinctive yellow and green shirts seemed to be first to every ball, moving the ball quickly, and using fullbacks Sparks and Harding to deliver crosses into the box. They didn’t create much in the first half, largely thanks to the excellence of Goode and Frempah in their own box, but it was very much a warning of the danger that the home side possessed, if the Blues weren’t already aware.
Rifat’s side came out with more energy in the second half, and looked to put more pressure on their opponents, but it was to little avail early on, as they fell behind to a smart finish from probable player of the match Charlie Hester-Cook. He rolled one into the bottom right corner, beyond the outstretched glove of Ben Goode diving away to his left to put the hosts into a deserved lead an hour into the contest.
It could have even come sooner: Hester-Cook had a chance from closer range where he completely fluffed his lines, miskicking the ball when he had a great chance to put the ball away after it had dropped to him from a corner. And then just moments later, Ben Goode pulled off one of the saves of the season, keeping out the Horsham attempt that was fired at him from no more than 5 yards away. He stuck his left hand out and diverted the ball over the crossbar in what turned out to be a crucial moment in the course of the game.
Crucial because it kept his side in the game, and meant that their renewed energy and purpose after going one goal down ultimately bore fruit.
The introduction of Luke Deslandes also contributed to a bigger threat from the visitors, as the young gun looked dangerous on the ball and played in his teammates as more opportunities were created.
It was one of the more innocuous opportunities that led to the equaliser, as Alkeo Bani picked up a headed clearance from the Horsham defence 25 yards from goal. With no yellow shirts near him, he took a moment to compose himself before firing the ball into the top right corner (via a small deflection off a defender). The keeper could only watch the ball sail past him, and at the same time watching his side’s dominance for the first hour disappear with it.
It was a good lesson that the quantity of possession means nothing in this game, and while the hosts had bossed large portions of the game, they were unable to create quality chances en masse. It left all three results on the table, and after Bani’s wonder-strike a Wingate and Finchley victory didn’t look too far away.
Ruben Carvalho, a new man since the 60th minute, drove one low and hard into the side netting, and Luke Deslandes fired one just over the bar from inside the box after some quick feet allowed him to dodge the opponents’ tackles.
But 1-1 was how it finished, a valuable point gained in West Sussex.
Having failed to score in their last two away fixtures (Cray & Dulwich), the goal, the defensive performance, and the point will all be positives that the side can take forward to their next away trip, also in West Sussex as they return to take on a Bognor Regis side who have not lost at home all season.
The Blues return home next Saturday, welcoming Hashtag United. We’ll see you there!
Wingate & Finchley: Goode; Solomon; Cracknell; Bani (Seager 80’); Frempah; Frimpong; Ifil (Deslandes 72’); Carvalho; Chukwu; Long (Newton 51’); Biler
Unused Subs: Williams; Webb