Wingate & Finchley secured a first home win of the season with a comfortable, but not flawless, 2-0 win over Merstham FC. Goals from both centre halves, Sean Cronin and Marc Weatherstone helped Keith Rowland’s side build momentum after Tuesday night’s Velocity Trophy win at Mildenhall Town.
It was the Blues who got off to a strong start, testing former goalkeeper, Chris Haigh on numerous occasions. In the first minute, Tim Monsheju’s effort from a Chace O’Neill header stung the palms of the Merstham stopper, but he was able to hold. Four minutes later, O’Neill was the provider yet again but Lewis Putman couldn’t head the corner beyond Haigh. Straight away, Wingate threatened again but Putman couldn’t beat Haigh with another header - this time from a Reece Beckles-Richards cross.
A long lull in proceedings followed, with a lot of possession football, but neither side were able to cancel each other out. Just before half time, O’Neill unleashed his inner Cristiano Ronaldo with a fine knuckleball free-kick, but his effort sailed just wide of Haigh’s right-hand post. However, the rampant Blues couldn’t be tamed for long. A glorious touch from Putman set him free inside the Merstham penalty box, only to see him sandwiched between two men, and the referee was left with no option but to point to the spot. And Sean Cronin, reliable as ever, was on hand to dispatch the penalty to Haigh’s left - sending the keeper the wrong way in the process - to open the scoring.
The second half took a while to liven up and Merstham’s first chance of any note came from Reece Hall’s free kick - which deflected wide of Gore’s right hand post. From the resulting set piece, Fabio Saraiva struck an effort from the edge of the area but Shane Gore was on hand to punch away to safety.
Ten minutes after the visitors’ chances, the Blues had doubled their lead. A free-kick was floated in from the right wing by Beckles-Richards and an unmarked Marc Weatherstone was on hand to head down and beyond Haigh. The former Captain’s goal allowed most inside the Maurice Rebak Stadium to breathe a little easier.
And it was nearly three soon after. Brandon McKenna, making his home debut, burst into the area and squared to Putman, but the usually-lethal forward blazed his effort over the bar. Beckles-Richards was denied by Haigh minutes later, diving to his right to stop the Wingate striker scoring his second in as many games after Marc Charles-Smith had been scythed down on the edge of the box.
The last two chances of the game fell to the visitors. First, Calum Davies ran through on goal but was smartly stopped by an onrushing Gore - who repeated his heroics in stoppage time, preventing Tom Bird from pulling a goal back. Between Gore's two stops was a scuffle that resulted in two Merstham red cards. Ollie Cook was removed from the field of play for violent conduct and teammate, Josh Antonio followed for a second bookable offence. Two Wingate players were cautioned.
However, the Blues held their cool and moved up to 14th position in the League. Rowland’s side now face a two-week wait for their next scheduled game, when Lewes FC visit North London.
Report by Nikhil Saglani