The game: Enfield Town v. Dulwich Hamlet.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: nocturnal, moody and sensational. A bit like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Enticing. Exhilarating. Mouthwatering. Sorry, but this artisan pork pie I’m eating really is top notch. Fortuitously, these same adjectives are apt to describe Tuesday night’s match up between Enfield Town and Dulwich Hamlet. Having seen both teams before, knowing that both sides like to play open, attacking football, I was filled with a childlike giddiness as I trooped across the shady Enfield playing fields and toward the home ground. Hamlet were seven places above Enfield in the league, but Town went into the fixture with their recent trouncing of league leaders Maidstone fresh in the memory; altogether, the game promised to be a full-on footballing feast.
With the mass of Enfield Ultras and Hamlet’s sizeable ‘Rabble’ filling out opposite ends of the pitch, the off-field entertainment was just as promising. Heralded by the vying tunes of ‘Edgar Kail in my heart’ and ‘All you need is Town’, the match kicked off; straightaway, both sides looked to establish passing patterns. After some early precision from the home side, striker Liam Hope fired high over the crossbar from a good position; then, after Tyler Campbell and Corey Whitely combined with their accustomed flair, the latter saw his low strike saved by Hamlet keeper Phil Wilson. Enfield had made a strong start. Soon, however, the away side started to stifle them.
Hamlet’s wide men, Nyren Clunis and Luke Wanadio, began to run the wings almost unopposed; their pace and acceleration caused massive problems for Town’s defence. Seemingly inspired by the away fans’ frank musings on Tooting, Mitcham and Leatherhead, they tightened their grip on the pitch with a succession of corners and menacing free kicks. In the sixteenth minute, one corner was played short to Hamlet midfielder Ashley Carew, who set up teammate Xavier Vidal on the edge of the box; his shot was deflected toward three free players in Pink & Blue, but the offside flag was raised. Though Town threatened to score from a corner at the other end – defender Taylor Hastings heading wide – the momentum was with Dulwich. This showed when, in the twenty-first minute, a long ball from the back put Nyren Clunis speeding through on goal. Home keeper Nathan McDonald charged off his line, made himself big and saved the initial shot bravely; unluckily for him, the deflection flew into the path of away striker Serge Makofo, who slipped the ball into the net.
After the opener, Hamlet seemed inspired. In the twenty-second minute, a mistake from Town’s Claudiu Vilcu gave the away side a free kick twenty yards out; this went close, but was pinged just over by Vidal. Powerful running from Nyren Clunis caused chaos on the left; this earned him some bold comparisons to Lionel Messi from the Rabble. Two cut backs and a nifty shot from Luke Wanadio received a chorus of Supergrass-based chanting as well as a cacophonous cry of ‘Sexy football!’; the save from McDonald was equally deserving of praise. Then, after a great cross from Wanadio, Vidal should have scored; his scuffed shot from five yards was blocked, before the rebound was walloped out onto the running track. It felt as if the away side might strike again.
In the thirty-fourth minute, they very nearly did. First Vidal and Wanadio found themselves two on one, but the former overhit the final ball. Then, within seconds, Michael Abnett, Carew and Makofo all went close; Abnett’s drive was denied by an astounding save, Carew’s shot cleared off the line and Makofo’s curler put a touch wide of the post. Town needed to recover, and quickly.
To their credit, they did manage to re-establish themselves and see out the rest of the half. Bar a bobbling shot from Carew in the thirty-eighth minute – again, saved well by Nathan McDonald – Hamlet’s chances were limited; meanwhile, Campbell and Whitely tried hard to get Town back into the game, the former winning a couple of positive free kicks, both fired high by Nathan Livings. The half came to a close with the away team one-nil up and, though it could have been more, Enfield’s revival towards the end meant there was still all to play for; as I sloped off to the Butler’s Bar, my childlike giddiness was in no way diminished.
The next forty-five minutes saw Enfield improve markedly. Though the first action of the half saw Makofo curl just wide of the home net once more, Town soon began to express themselves alike. In the fiftieth minute, Whitely won a long ball from Vilcu out on the left, cruised past his marker and fired low at the advancing Wilson; the ball almost squirmed between the away keeper’s legs, but he managed to stop it. An away counter saw McDonald keep out Abnett, while a home attack saw a stinging Whitely free kick cleared; the open, attacking football was irrepressible. In the fifty-sixth minute, a blistering run from Wanadio led to McDonald stopping yet another strike, before the Enfield keeper saved – and held – the header from the subsequent corner. I was convinced a goal was coming at this point, but the scorer was anyone’s guess.
The end to end football continued with barely a pause. Whitely and Campbell were everywhere for Enfield, Clunis and Wanadio likewise for Dulwich; Whitely and Wanadio were both denied yet again. Some settled passing saw fewer chances over the next ten minutes, but both sides showed plenty of quality. Hamlet manager Gavin Rose then brought on Harry Ottaway, and the forward’s first contribution was to win a central free kick on the edge of the Enfield box; this brought perhaps the best save of the match from McDonald, who palmed Ashley Carew’s wicked, dipping attempt away to safety.
Over the last twenty minutes, Enfield really started to push for a goal. Whitely was inches away from being put through in the seventy-seventh minute, only to be cut out by defender Frazer Shaw. Campbell and Whitely started to exert sustained pressure on Hamlet’s back four, while the former blazed over after a clever short-corner routine. The away side never stopped posing a threat, of course; only another act of goalkeeping heroism kept out Clunis in the eightieth minute. Still, the home fans sang Corey Whitely’s name in the hope of an equaliser; it was not so far-fetched a hope.
Frustratingly for the Towners, it was not to be. Great running from Enfield enforcer Stanley Muguo created another chance for Campbell, but he could not get his effort on target. At the other end, Hamlet substitute Albert Jarrett shot wide. In the eighty-ninth minute, an Enfield corner was cleared, before Vilcu nearly worked an opportunity for Whitely; the crucial through ball was overdone, and comfortably collected by Wilson. That was the last chance of the match, and a merited result for the visitors was decided – somehow – by a single goal. The Rabble were jubilant in victory, the Town fans gracious in defeat; result or no result, it had been sensational.
Result: Enfield Town 0 Dulwich Hamlet 1.
My MoM: Clunis and Wanadio were devastating at times, while Whitely and Campbell fought back tenaciously. However, Nathan McDonald was outstanding throughout; the Enfield stopper gets top plaudit.
Best fans: nothing to decide between the two in terms of noise, passion and all-round support. Nonetheless, the Rabble ought to be commended for coming in numbers and matching the Town fans at home; from what I’ve seen, that’s no mean feat.