Wingate and Finchley travel to Aveley for a rare Sunday kick off in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy against a struggling Grays Athletic side. The Gravelmen currently sit one point off the bottom of the Ryman Premier League and some four points away from safety. Athletic, who finished last season in a respectable 15th place, have mustered up just two league wins from 16 attempts this time around. The last, a 3-1 win over Harlow Town at the start of October, proved to be a false dawn, conceding eight and scoring one apiece in their following three matches.
And one has to go back to August 27th for Athletic’s only other victory in the league – a 1-0 win over newly promoted Worthing FC. But manager Jamie Stuart has overseen a change in personnel at Mill Field this week. Ivorian Goalkeeper Amadou Tangara and Ipswich Town Reserve’s Kolade Salaudeen were drafted in ahead of Grays’ game on Wednesday, while assistant manager Keith Levett left the club by mutual consent. And it’s possible these tinkers to the squad gave Grays just the impetus they needed – table-topping promotion favourites Leiston were held to a 1-1 draw. By contrast, Wingate’s season finally seems to be in full flight.
A slow August has been forgotten with a September and October run that has seen Keith Rowland’s men lose just three games in 12 matches across all competitions. Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Billericay Town was the only dampener of a month in which Wingate have dominated the majority of games they have appeared in, with such scorelines as 8-1 and 4-0 being recorded.
Sunday’s sides met three times last season – twice in the Ryman Premier League and once in the Ryman League Cup – and Wingate went unbeaten throughout; though 5-4, 3-2 and 0-0 were not the most convincing of scorelines. And that goalless draw was marred by an ugly incident at the end of the game in which a headbutt was allegedly thrown before each side saw a player dismissed.
The sides are yet to meet in the league this season and will not do so until next year, so Sunday’s game will be a chance to feel each other out. Smart money would be put on a buoyant Wingate side, especially as Grays seem to be gasping for air. But in a fiery cup competition between two sides who are no strangers to each other, it’s quite apparent that trying to call a winner wouldn’t be smart at all. By Andy Gerlis