The game: Enfield Town v. Canvey Island.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: colder than the shady side of my ice cream maker.
It was a chill Tuesday night in North London, and I found myself back in Enfield – back at that art-deco beauty, the QEII. Though there was still no house piano player (a wildly unnecessary expense for a fan-owned club, on reflection), the pre-game atmosphere was very much positive for the visit of the ‘Gulls’ from Canvey Island; with a history of high scores and late winners in this fixture, with Town still in the running for a play-off spot and Canvey struggling badly, there was a strong sense of home anticipation in the ground.
The game began, and it was all Enfield. In the third minute, the effervescent Corey Whitely ghosted a perfect through ball to Tyler Campbell, but the latter had just strayed offside. In the fifth, after a thumping foul by Canvey defender Josh Banton on Campbell, a free kick from the left was very nearly turned in at the far post by Town’s Joe Stevens; he couldn’t quite latch on to the ball, however. Though both Jay Curran and Enoch Showunmi were showing glimpses of attacking promise for the away side – the former even skimming a free header past the post in the eighth minute, after a quick counter – Canvey were laboured in the midfield; Enfield seemed like the only side with a final ball. It was no surprise that the home team scored first, in the twelfth; after a good passing move had been ended by another foul out on the left, a precise free kick was taken down nicely by recent arrival Claudiu Vilcu, who then stroked a low shot into the back of the net.
Just as I was preparing to watch a comfortable Enfield victory, the Gulls turned the game on its head. Four minutes after the first goal, some nonchalant one twos between the Enfield defenders led to striker Showunmi stealing a loose pass; from just under twenty yards, he then fired an arrow of a shot past home keeper Nathan McDonald. The equaliser was definitely against the run of play, but the finish was sublime. The home side’s momentum was checked.
The next twenty five minutes were more level; even though Town continued to shade the play, Canvey put themselves about, Showunmi especially; regularly dropping back to help the midfield out with his physicality, he caused Enfield all sorts of problems. Still, Town had almost all the chances. In the twenty-second minute, the home team nearly scored from a corner, captain Mark Kirby making a decent connection on the volley; this was pushed away by Gulls’ keeper Tim Brown, and eventually cleared. A minute later, a quickly-taken free kick gave Corey Whitely a chance to fire at goal from the right, but this was also saved. In the twenty-ninth, Whitely got a low shot away from a central position; Brown diverted this into the path of the onrushing Campbell, but the Town winger was just offside once more. The game then took on a to-and-fro character, both sides attacking without creating clear openings.
Showunmi continued to impress for Canvey, Whitely, Campbell and tough tackler Stanley Muguo for Enfield; the half seemed pretty much settled. Then, in the forty-fifth minute, the Gulls changed the game once more; an attack on the left saw a weighted cross fall right at the feet of Jay Curran, who tapped in to put the visitors ahead. As the referee played on for an inexplicable six minutes of additional time, the home side were heavily rocked by this; they had already let Canvey bear down on goal several times when, in the last additional minute, the ball broke for Curran to go one on one with McDonald; he could only put his shot wide of the Enfield post. It was a let off for Town, who could have gone from supremacy to a two-goal deficit in just over half an hour; as they trudged off the pitch and I reached for my pre-packed dinner of vegetable crisps, I wondered if they would be able to find a response.
If there were any worries amongst the Town fans, they didn’t show; reminding the players of their status as ‘champions of Europe’ (winners of The Supporters Direct Cup) once they re-emerged, the singing section struck up a proper performance. Accordingly, so did the team; from the first minute of the second half they passed tidily, attacked keenly, fought hard and dictated the tempo. In the forty-eighth minute, Campbell burst forward and unleashed a curling shot toward the top left corner of goal; Brown made an excellent fingertip save to keep him out. The resulting short corner went to Whitely, who then jinked past two Canvey defenders before thundering another shot at goal; this was only just blocked. In the fiftieth, a Whitely skimmer crept centimetres wide of the post after the slightest of saves from the away keeper. The next corner was nearly tapped in by Muguo, but was desperately cleared; this led to a foul on the edge of the box and a promising Enfield free kick – the leveller was clearly coming.
It wasn’t coming just yet; the free kick hit the wall before the ball was ultimately hoofed away. Canvey’s attackers seemed entirely cut off at this point, and the siege of the away box was only interrupted by the fifty-sixth minute introduction of Enfield’s brand-new forward Bobby Devyne for Jon Constant. It did not take him long to contribute; three minutes later he rounded Brown, yet couldn’t quite control the ball for a tap in. Devyne, Whitely and Campbell combined instinctively; in the sixty-fourth minute, Whitely was sent slaloming away on the left by Campbell before going close again, while in the sixty-seventh Devyne was sent away on the right, only to be fouled. With the new man an attacking catalyst, the inevitable happened after another five minutes of pressure; Campbell rushed into the box from the left, his initial shot was pushed out by the beleaguered Brown, but Devyne slotted the rebound from the edge of the area. The home fans went spare. Hot drinks went everywhere.
Somehow, a winner felt certain. It nearly came in the eighty-third minute, when a Devyne shot also trickled past the post after a slight save. Canvey tried to slow the play to a standstill, but they couldn’t avert what everyone behind the goal was expecting. In the last minute of normal time, great running by Whitely and Devyne led to midfielder Nathan Livings having a chance from fifteen yards; his scooped shot fell crashing into the away net. The subsequent scenes were absolutely mental. Town now had to hold on.
Hold on they did; a few minutes of extra time passed with minimal pressure from the dejected Gulls, and the whistle went. Bouncing up and down, bellowing out a chorus of ‘Bradley Quinton’s Blue and White Army’, the Enfield fans saw all their pre-match anticipation realised; what a comeback from Town, and what a game.
Result: Enfield Town 3 Canvey Island 2.
My MoM: a special mention for besieged Canvey keeper Tim Brown, but Enfield’s new man Bobby Devyne gets the luxury accolade; though teammates Corey Whitely and Tyler Campbell were excellent too, this was an outstanding, scoring debut.
Best fans: the Blue and White Army. Champions of Europe.