Wingate & Finchley ended a successful 2023 with a narrow victory over Kingstonian on Saturday, and kicked off 2024 with another narrow victory, winning 3-2 at home against Cheshunt, although the Blues will be disappointed not to have scored more on the day. Cheshunt had a sole season in the National League South last year, being relegated in the summer but find themselves nervously looking over their shoulders this season, sitting in the Isthmian Premier League relegation zone after this result.
The first clear-cut chance on goal came after a quarter of an hour when Loïc Hernandez met Ruben Carvalho's free kick from the right flank but his header glanced the post. Cheshunt full back Anwar Moutawafiq went down from the aerial challenge with a nasty looking head injury which forced him off and all at the club wish him well.
Just five minutes later, Anointed Chukwu couldn't quite time his run, being flagged offside as he put the ball into the Cheshunt net, the deadlock remaining unbroken. In the 34th minute however the Blues took the lead. The lively Ruben Carvalho beat his man in the box and cut back inside, the defender couldn't help but make contact with a sliding challenge. Carvalho dusted himself off and sent Joe Rose in the Cheshunt goal the wrong way from the spot.
Not for the first time this season, however, the lead did not last long. Just three minutes later Cheshunt were on level terms, a slightly fortuitous deflection found its way to Solomon Baugh whose shot bounced off a Wingate defender on its way into the net. Cheshunt were growing into the game at this stage and dominated possession for a few minutes either side of the equaliser.
Just before half time, with five minutes added, Wingate will feel they should've regained the lead through Elliot Long who cut in and unleashed a vicious shot from the edge of the area which keeper Rose thankfully saw hit his near post and bobble away to safety keeping the scores level at the interval.
Ahmet Rifat said in his post-match interview that he was disappointed to be going into the break on level terms so he will have been pleased to see Anointed Chukwu score a tap-in from two yards within two minutes of the restart thanks to some good work on the left flank from Loïc Hernandez.
Throughout the second half the attacking play from Wingate's front three was excellent, with some brilliant touches and ever-growing chemistry between them. Just before the hour mark the trio combined again and a better final pass would've inevitably put Chukwu in for another tap in. Just a couple of minutes later Chuks did get his second and Wingate's third. An excellent defence-spitting pass from Alex Solomon found Elliot Long who put the ball on a plate for Chukwu who duly applied the finish.
Yet again, Cheshunt came straight back and had their second of the day within a minute, experienced striker Nnamdi Nwachuku coolly converting past Goode.
The rain continued to fall throughout the second half as Cheshunt had a couple more good chances of their own to level the tie, kept out by a combination of Ben Goode and the woodwork. Cheshunt's keeper Rose then made an outstanding reflex save to prevent Chukwu a deserved hat-trick, keeping the ball out from close range. Five minutes later Chukwu hit the woodwork himself from an instinctive prod after the ball was saved into his path.
Cheshunt continued to throw the ball forwards in the dying stages but an imperious display from all three centre backs, most notably ex-Cheshunt man Ben Frempah, who was awarded man of the match by the management team, helped to keep the three points firmly in N12.
An excellent match of football and great advert for non-league for the 257 in attendance on Monday. Another three points keeps the Blues in 4th place as we kick off 2024. Next up sees a tricky visit to Folkestone on Saturday 6th before returning to the Maurice Rebak on 13th to face Whitehawk. We look forward to seeing many of you there!
Wingate & Finchley: Goode; Solomon; Cracknell; Bani; Frempah; Achuba (Frimpong 76'); Garrett-Douglas; Carvalho (Newton 84'); Chukwu; Long; Hernandez
Unused subs: Webb; Ifil; Yeboah
Photos courtesy of Martin Addison