The first visit by the Police to our ground for a league match – no they weren’t expecting crowd trouble, they were here to play. Whilst it is the first time that the Met Police and Wingate & Finchley have met in a league match, they did visit as recently as last February for a Ryman League Cup game. On that day they were the victims of a picky ref, having to take to the field in borrowed yellow shorts – we never did get to the bottom of what was wrong with their red and black away kit! They were also beaten 5-2; a score line which in no way reflected what was a very even match.
There was to be no embarrassing last minute change of kit this time as the Police took to the field wearing all red away kit. It was threatening to rain and a strong wind was sweeping in from the south-west giving a truly autumnal feel to the evening. Not a night to be a goalkeeper!
The Blues had the best of the early possession and pressed hard to gain an advantage. Leon was in and around the penalty area, along with Murat and Lairdy, harassing the defenders. It was Leon who brought about the break through – challenging a defender and the Police keeper on the edge of the area. The momentum of the keeper’s jump to grab the ball off Leon’s toe carried him out of his area to immediate cries of handball from the players and the fans behind the goal. He dropped the ball as he landed. The ref was a distance away and play just about came to a halt as most players looked to him for a decision. The ball however rolled serenely out off the keeper’s thigh and Lewis, showing presence of mind, calmly slotted it into the open goal. The grinding of cogs in the ref’s brain ceased and with a look of relief he blew his whistle and pointed to the centre spot 🙂 The lesson from that is ‘Always Play to the Whistle’. 1-0 up after 13 minutes – another quick start by Wingate & Finchley.
The game now became a much more even affair with both sides mounting attacks and creating chances. The Police should have equalised when Jack Page shot over the bar from very close range in one of those ‘it was easier to score than miss’ moments. Leon and Mark Henry both had shots blocked by the keeper. I have so often jokingly called Mark the invisible man because he does his job with a minimum of flamboyance in the dark heart of the pitch – often out of reach of the camera. It was great to catch him up-front and personal with the opposition keeper as he bore down on goal 🙂 If he’d shot a couple of strides earlier he might also have troubled the score keepers! That was to be the story of most of Wingate & Finchley’s efforts in the area – a couple of strides too many, giving the opposition defenders time to close in and prevent a goal.
Halftime came without any further goals and the fans were glad to seek the warmth of the bar after standing in that biting wind. I opted for a quiet sit and think rather than a swift pint. I upgraded my zoom lens for the football just before the season to improve the performance under the floodlights at evening games – I’m sure it would have been cheaper to upgrade the floodlights 😉 So I employed my thinking time checking the shots from the first half to see how the settings I was using were working out. The buzzer went and we wandered back out into the cold. We’d had some showers in the first half but the sky was slowly clearing and the second half would remain dry. The wind was still being lazy – going straight through you rather than around and some of the players were shivering as they waited for the ref to start the half.
From the kick off Wingate & Finchley hoofed the ball forward into the opposition corner where it went out of play. ‘Why do they always do that?’ muttered Dave – he has a point, why give away possession unnecessarily at the start of play? The Police took that as encouragement and dominated the next 20 minutes, creating a number of chances. Bobby was called upon to make a couple of saves though none of the shots had real venom in them and no heroics were required. The fans were getting worried now – As I passed behind the Police goal on my way to a different shooting position Web Martin said ‘You wanna be up the other end. There’s expletive deleted happening down here!’ I didn’t take his advice though, opting instead for the stand side touchline.
Around the 70th minute a sudden counterattack saw Leon haring down the line with police defenders in hot pursuit. Driven towards the corner flag, he managed to squeeze a cross into the danger area which Lewis was able to collect and slot home to the diving keeper’s right. A 2-0 lead but still looking shaky as the Police continued on their beat into the W & F penalty area. Soon afterwards they had a solid appeal for a penalty – Quite a few of the less partisan W & F fans would have given it but all the ref gave was a corner! I hope his car was legally parked and with a full set of working lights because I’m sure all the Met forwards would have been reaching for their notepads if they were in uniform 😉
The resulting corner was a good one, picking out the head of Karl Wilson-Dennis at the near post. He headed the ball down towards the goal and it looked like Bobby juggled it into the back of the net – like I said, not a night for goalkeepers! 2-1 and justice was, at least, seen to be done 🙂
The Met continued to press but the blues held out to complete a 4th victory in 5 games. Del and I chatted with the Met Police manager in the bar afterwards. We could only sympathise with him as we felt a draw would, again, have been a fair result for both teams. The ref made some odd decisions that may have affected their chances too. It was a game in which both sets of players played with spirit and dignity – you can’t ask for more than that!
But, we’ll take the points because we’ll probably need them by the end of the season. The consensus is that sooner or later (probably soon) we will lose and that when that happens it will result in a series of losses. The more points on the board to cushion us for that inevitability, the better. The trouble is that the Met Police are in the same boat as new promotees to the premier division – they too needed the points. It somehow felt hollow, if well intentioned, when we wished them luck for the rest of the season as they headed back to south-west London.
We’ve already beaten one of the pre-season favourites for promotion in Lowestoft Town. A stern test awaits us on Saturday when we face Canvey Island. They have a reputation as giant killers following some great results in past FA Cup campaigns. They have a great following of supporters. Whoever is on the turnstiles on Saturday is likely to be busy for a change 😉
All thoughts expressed are my own and do not represent the views of Wingate & Finchley FC.