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Valiant Blues finally succumb at home

Updated: Mar 21

Before the visit of Bognor Regis, it had been four and a half months since Wingate & Finchley had last been beaten at home. In that formidable span, that saw them pick up 22 points from a possible 24, they turned over some of the top teams in the division: Chatham, Billericay, and Lewes, with only Hasthag United able to pick up any points at all. You might in fact remember the previous defeat at the Maurice Rebak Stadium, the first of two this season by Cray Wanderers, who went a man up when the sides were level, after Alkeo Bani’s red card. It was an off the ball incident that occurred at the end of the first half, and ultimately allowed the day’s visitors to run out victorious in the second half

Sound familiar? This is very much the course of events that went down on Saturday in Finchley, the only differences being the opponent, and the player who saw red: Ruben Carvalho. 

He was booked for a late tackle on a Bognor player (justifiably you would say) and then as four Bognor players surrounded him, pushing him, and attempting to coax a reaction, they got what they wanted as the referee deemed that Carvalho had laid a headbutt on his opposition. This was enough for a second yellow (though why it wasn’t a straight red if there was indeed a headbutt is a question that will have to remain unanswered) and Carvalho hit the showers an hour earlier than he would have been wanting. 

In the resulting melee, Manager Ahmet Rifat also saw red, and Assistant Manager Tristan Thomas was booked. 

It was a disappointing moment in a match that was shaping up to be a cracker between two top teams in the division. Where the first half had been an even, fast-paced contest where both sides looked very much in the game, the second was more one-sided thanks to the artificial headstart that the visitors had been given. 

One of the many attractions of this level of football, is that it is football at its purest. Much of the faux bravado on show in the top leagues of Europe and the rest of the world is, thankfully, largely not on show here. Diving is limited, robust tackles can still be made, and sportsmanship is generally very well respected, with teams often sharing a bar following the game.  

It’s what makes this incident the more disappointing. There will be those that suggest that playing the referee is now just as important as playing the game. The end of winning justifies whatever means it takes to get there, and if you can sneak a red card or a penalty to help your cause, then you should do all you can to do that. 

There will be others who look at the events and shudder. They will say that games should be decided by action with the ball.

We’ll leave you to decide which side of the aisle you fall on this one.

These existential questions aside, the second half progressed in a manner that was largely to be expected, and while Bognor were on the front foot, they didn’t create many clear cut chances - their best chance was in fact a volley from Jasper Mather in the first half that was deflected wide by Will Seager. It was disappointing then that their goal came from their lowest quality chance of the game: a 25 yard strike by Bognor captain Matt Burgess. It was a well taken goal, and it allowed the visitors to sit back for the remaining 15 minutes, a goal and a man to the good. 

That didn’t stop the Blues from creating their best chance of the game, however, as Elliot Long, who started on the bench, got himself on the end of a Rhamar Garrett-Douglas cross late on. It was a free header from the penalty spot that he did well to head downwards, but it was unfortunately straight at Ryan Hall in the Bognor goal.

The red card notwithstanding, the Blues can count themselves unfortunate not to have taken anything away from the game. They defended resolutely, both with 11 and 10 men, and while they didn’t create too many chances of their own, they did a good job of limiting their opponents. 

And while the result is of course disappointing, it sets up the battle for the playoffs beautifully. There are now seven or eight sides that have a good shout at making the top 5, and the Blues’ next three games will go a long way to helping their cause: Billericay away, Bognor away, Hornchurch away. It is a formidable run, but one that could leapfrog them into pole position for the playoff places, should they manage to pick up points, both by denying their rivals of those same points, but also by creating a fierce momentum that will hopefully carry them forward to the end of the season. 

The next home game is on Easter Monday, as we welcome Potters Bar. It is the first of only four remaining home games this year, and so we will need your support as the playoff races heat up. 

We’ll see you there! 

Wingate & Finchley: Goode; Solomon; Seager; Frimpong (Long 77’); Frempah; Achuba; Garrett-Douglas; Carvalho; Chukwu; Deslandes (Bani 46’); Ifil (Newton 63’)

Unused Subs: Webb; Boachie

Hear more from Ahmet Rifat in his post-match interview below:

Photos courtesy of Martin Addison


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