The game: Wingate & Finchley v. Lewes.
The ground: The Harry Abrahams Stadium.
The conditions: brighter than my citrus wallpaper.
As the afternoon sunlight poured through the windowed sides of The Harry Abrahams Stadium’s grandstand, I settled down to watch the ‘Blues’ of Wingate & Finchley face off against the ‘Rooks’ of Lewes. The away side may have won the last six meetings between the two, yet the home crowd had reason to be confident at kick off; with Finchley seventh in the table and Lewes eighteenth, the Blues seemed well positioned to turn their fortunes in this fixture around.
The game started slowly. In the second minute, Lewes were given the first opportunity of the match with a promising free kick from twenty yards; this was fired high over the crossbar and onto the rugby pitches behind the home net. Both teams spent the next fifteen minutes trying to find their feet; Karl Oliyide made some loping runs for the Blues as teammates David Knight and Richard Graham combined well on the right wing, but there was little end product; Lewes looked less threatening, but had the majority of the possession. After nineteen minutes, there had been no saves for either keeper to make. In the twentieth minute, there was a goal.
A clipped midfield pass put Knight through on goal; the Blues’ forward then ran thirty yards to the opposition box and, though the Lewes defence managed to force him out right, he slipped a precise shot in at the near post. Rooks’ keeper Rikki Banks got something on it, and probably should have kept it out; nevertheless, Knight did well to get the shot on target, and got his reward.
With the home team ahead, the pace of the game improved considerably. In the twenty-first minute, Oliyide was sent lolloping away into the box after some good home passing; his thumping drive at goal was just blocked by Lewes’ defender Chris Breach. Snappish tackles started going in all over the pitch, while Finchley’s final ball rapidly improved; in the twenty-seventh, a tantalising Knight cross nearly found the Blues’ number nine, Rob Laney, unmarked, only to be cleared by the faintest of touches from the covering defender. Lewes were not playing badly on the ball, yet they created very little; the away team lacked a cutting edge, their forward line especially. Finchley were far more incisive, Knight, Oliyide and attacker Tommy Tejan-Sie all combining nicely. After a few wayward shots from Knight, they were rewarded once more.
In the thirty-fifth minute, after Oliyide had won the ball back from Lewes in the Blues’ half, some good pass-and-move football led to a quick home counter attack on the left. The Rooks’ defence was caught cold and, after a keen pass from left to right found the oncoming Oliyide in space ten yards out, the Blues’ eleven calmly fired the ball back across Banks and into the top left. This was by far the best move of the game, and deserved the impressive finish. Since Oliyide was to come off only four minutes later having suffered a knock, it also signalled his last contribution of the match; not a bad way to bow out.
Tejan-Sie had a low shot saved by Banks not long after, while the Blues continued to make progress on the right flank; Lewes seemed to be floundering in the minutes before half time. The home side couldn’t take further advantage, however; two-nil at the half, and it was time for a non-alcoholic beverage in ‘The Wingate’.
The start of the second half was much the same as the start of the first; bar a few testing crosses, neither team made much happen. In the fifty-fifth minute, Rob Laney hit a skimming shot at Banks, but the away keeper collected this up safely. In the fifty-seventh, Knight fired a shot just over Banks’ crossbar; again, the pace was picking up. The home side were not satisfied with a two-goal lead, continuing with their direct attacking play. Likewise, Lewes were still muted in attack; substitute Arron Hopkinson did provide some fleeting threat with several good runs down the left flank, but no real chances were carved out.
In the sixty-second minute, Finchley should have been three-nil up. Some tricky running by Knight tormented the Lewes defenders; having sped twenty five yards to the opposition by-line, his dangerous cross was then cleared for a corner. This was played short to Tejan-Sie, who turned in the box and hammered the ball into the net. Celebrations ensued amongst Blues fans and players alike, yet the linesman had raised his flag; after some deliberation between officials, the goal was disallowed for offside. To put it bluntly, this was a ridiculous decision. Tejan-Sie’s onside position was clear to everyone in the ground bar the referee and linesman, and especially clear to the irate Finchley Ultras – one of whom could only express his rage by a distinct cry of ‘LOUD NOISES!’
Happily for the home support, this mistake did not affect the result. The game turned a bit tense after this, snappish tackles becoming snappish fouls; Rooks’ defender Ollie Rowe scythed down Tejan-Sie with particular aplomb at in the sixty-ninth, but no card was produced. The last twenty minutes saw Lewes ramp up possession, but their lack of creativity continued. Meanwhile, the Blues remained incisive; several one on ones were carved out, but the third goal eluded them.
In the eighty-sixth minute, there was almost a spectacular home finish to the game; Knight raced down the left flank before his accurate cross fell to Laney, who attempted an ambitious overhead kick. This was strong and on target; it may well have gone in were it not for a brave block from Lewes’ defender Sam Cole – using his face. After this painful-looking incident, Knight and substitute Gavin Suddell almost managed to pass the ball into the Rooks’ net, but Banks kept them out. Four minutes of added time then passed by quietly; the comfortable home win was complete, while the Blues’ bogey team were well beaten.
Result: Wingate & Finchley 2 Lewes 0.
My MoM: Karl Oliyide. Only on for forty-odd minutes but ran directly, scored and created opportunities; the home side’s attack wasn’t quite the same without him.
Best fans: the Finchley Ultras. ‘LOUD NOISES!’