Mendy 2, Ruff, Ifil
Wingate & Finchley secured their Bostik Premier Division survival in dramatic fashion with a 4-2 victory over Burgess Hill Town on the last day of the season.
Wingate dominated the first half, going 2-0 up courtesy of an Anthony Mendy brace, before allowing the visitors back into the game into the second half. The scores were level until the 80th minute when Charlie Ruff came off the bench to put the Blues into the lead, and Luke Ifil secured the points minutes later.
Knowing that a victory would secure their survival regardless of Whitehawk’s result against Corinthian-Casuals, Wingate wasted no time going about business. After a frustrating first 10 minutes, the breakthrough came just before the 15-minute mark. Ifil’s free kick was whipped in from the corner position and Laney was eventually able to pass to Donovan Makoma inside the box; the midfielder quickly squared to Mendy who curled a strike into the bottom corner to ease Wingate nerves. Throughout the rest of the half the hosts remained on top, although were largely restricted to long-range attempts, including Makoma and Abrahams seeing efforts fly over the bar.
Whilst it looked like all Wingate would have to show for their dominance going into the break was Mendy’s solitary goal, the striker made sure that this would not be the case on the stroke of half time.
Mendy was played through by Ahmet Rifat and tried to take the ball round the keeper; at first it looked like he had overplayed it but he regained composure and curled the ball into the empty net from an angle.
As the players came out for the second half, there was an air of the game already being done and dusted however this turned out to be far from the case.
After Mendy volleyed wide at the beginning of the half, it was Burgess Hill who nicked a goal and pulled themselves back into the game. After hitting the bar, the ball bounced down and Dan Beck was able to tap into an open net.
The visitors showed intent to grab an equaliser, with Aaron Smith-Joseph forcing a good save from Shane Gore minutes after the goal.
Mendy had yet another attempt saved and whilst he was the key man in the first period, he struggled to find the net in the second, seeing a shot saved by James from inside the box.
But, Burgess Hill remained in the game as the match wore on and on 68 minutes, Wingate’s worst fears were realised.
Joseph Felix smashed home the equaliser and whilst the goal didn’t mean much to the visiting fans due to their relegation being all but confirmed, it meant that due to Whitehawk’s winning position, the Blues had 22 minutes to find the goal that would keep them in the division.
In search of the all-important goal, reinforcements came off the Wingate bench in the form of Reece Beckles-Richards and Charlie Ruff although it was a centre-back, Sean Cronin, who came close with 15 minutes to go, seeing a deflected strike bounce off the crossbar and away.
The 80-minute mark came around and as it stood, Wingate remained in 20th position; enter Charlie Ruff. Ifil crossed from the edge of the box even though Mendy could only scuff an overhead kick, it turned out to be a perfect pass for the on-rushing Ruff, who was able to smash home from the edge of the six-yard box. The huge importance of the goal was felt throughout the ground, and there was a sense of mass relief across the whole Wingate faithful.
The task was not complete, however, and Gore was called into action from Pat Harding’s strike to make what would prove to be the save that secured the Blues’ survival.
With 5 minutes of regulation time to go, Ifil made a superb darting run from his own half and, resisting the urge to go the corner and waste time, he took the ball past a defender and slotted through the keeper’s legs; a goal which meant that survival was well within reach for the Blues.
As the last 5 minutes and three minutes of added time wore on, the party atmosphere was already brewing and as the final whistle went, a roar reverberated through the Maurice Rebak Stadium and chants of ‘We are staying up’ began to ring.
The Blues’ win sent Burgess Hill officially down, as well as Whitehawk who, despite a 4-0 victory, hadn’t got the help that they required from the Hillians to keep them up.
After a torrid season, a day such as this will go down in the memory of all Wingate fans for a long, long time.
Report by Jamie Grossman