The final pre-season friendly matches were played out last week – a Tuesday night game against Hemel Hempstead Town FC and a Saturday rematch against old rivals Dulwich Hamlet. It’s fair to say that at this stage as a supporter I don’t know just how ready the players are for the forthcoming Ryman Premier Division season. It’s always a bit unsettling when even the last pre-season friendly sees yet more new faces in the line-up. Last minute additions to the team lend an air of impermanence to the side. Of course, at this tier of the pyramid players come and go throughout a season, especially if a team is not doing as well as hoped. Four seasons ago Wingate & Finchley seemed to be losing and gaining players throughout the season as the team struggled to stay away from the relegation zone. Compare that with last season’s stability where the majority of the players stayed and battled for places in the team as the club progressed to two cup wins and promotion. With the move up to the Premier Division the Manager clearly feels a need to increase the size of the squad – a point well made by the absense of Josh Cooper over the last couple of friendlies with a knee injury which is awaiting tests to determine whether it is a cartilege problem. Clearly I hope it isn’t as Josh is an exciting player to watch and punches well above his relatively small stature. Leon Smith has also had problems with illness in the run up to the season – rumours that there is a plot by some Premier Division defenders to poison him are unfounded 😉
Coming off the back of a defeat away to Leverstock Green, the players were looking to put in an improved performance – Lewis and Bobby Aisien told me as much while doing their pre-warm up stretches. It is a measure of the honesty of the players that they were willing to talk about a poor performance with a supporter. Even so, the match against Hemel Hempstead Town was a dour affair. It was also marred by an X-rated tackle on Wrighty that left the referee with no alternative but to issue the offender with a straight red card. With the opposition down to ten men Wingate & Finchley still struggled to create chances and it took a moment of individual brilliance by Murat to break the stalemate. 1 – 0 was the final result and there was a feeling that we had just seen a glimpse of the season ahead – wins may be hard to come by 😦
The match against Dulwich Hamlet was a more exciting affair. Hamlet came to exact revenge for their Ryman League Cup Final defeat. They did so in a five goal thriller of a match that was a joy to watch. Hamlet scored first, a goal that came out of nothing. Joe O’Brien got the equaliser from a free kick – striking low through the crowd in the penalty area. Leon Smith, came on in the second half and immediately tiptoed through the tulips to strike a shot at the Dulwich goal. Their keeper got a glove on it but merely deflected it into the other corner of the net. Hamlet knew it was time to be or not to be and launched a series of attacks resulting in a slightly fortuitous goal when a cross into the area caught a deflection from Danny Neilson’s boot and wrong-footed Gavin. Danny will thank Kevin James for applying a touch to claim the goal which would otherwise have been an OG.
A short time later Gavin was involved in a heavy collision with a Dulwich forward as both went for a 50/50 ball. There was no malice in the challenge which left both players lying winded on the edge of the box. It was clear that Gavin was still struggling when Dulwich scored the winner a few minutes later. It would be too easy to say it was a mistake by Gav – the look of pain on his face as he dived, only to feel the ball squirm through under his body, suggests that more than his pride was hurting 😦 So, their revenge complete the Hamlet fans were able to return home happy.
Now the Wingate & Finchley players will need to turn their thoughts to the first Premier Division match as they travel to Hastings on Saturday. After that game we may have a better idea as to whether all the friendlies of the last few weeks have prepared the side well for the season.
All thoughts expressed are my own and do not represent the views of Wingate & Finchley FC.