The game: Enfield Town v. Metropolitan Police.
The ground: the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium.
The conditions: drizzlier than a delicious lemon cake.
With a bitter gale whipping the terraces and rain slanting down from the flat, granite sky, Saturday’s fixture between Enfield Town and Metropolitan Police was – much like Luther, Broadchurch or any other good drama involving the force – set to a pretty bleak backdrop. The weather didn’t exactly bode well for smooth, stylish football yet, with the Met occupying a coveted play-off spot only nine points ahead of Town, both sides needed to produce some strong stuff; munching on my homemade spelt bap prior to kick off, I foresaw a tough and gritty game.
For the first twenty minutes or so, the home side actually managed to defy the elements and play with familiar panache; as a result, they were well on top. Tyler Campbell instantly set about the opposition’s defence, running, passing and jinking his way around the away box; in the third minute he set up Nathan Livings twelve yards out, but the young midfielder’s sweet volley was kept out by Met stopper Stuart Searle. In the sixth minute, a good cross from Town defender Ricky Gabriel dropped right to Campbell’s feet; the gifted number seven then drilled wide from close range – a rare lapse from him.
Though Town’s star man Corey Whitely was unusually quiet, the team continued to menace Searle’s net. Bar a few attempted (but largely unsupported) breaks from Met winger Bradley Hudson-Odoi, Enfield held onto the ball unopposed; with Bobby Devyne, Livings and Campbell all full of early energy, the away back four struggled. This was exemplified in the fifteenth minute when, having been turned by some tricky skill, Met defender Will Salmon tugged down Town’s Joe Stevens in the box; no penalty was given, but this was a very risky approach indeed. However, a few wayward shots later, Town’s initial élan began to fade. The game soon became about grinding the opposition down; only by working hard in the gruelling conditions might either team prosper.
The Met’s first real chance came from a twentieth minute free kick out on the right; this was headed well over the crossbar. In the twenty-third minute, Met midfielder Ryan James won the ball high up the pitch and, bursting into the home box from the left, fired low at Town keeper Nathan McDonald; this was confidently saved. The away side were definitely getting better, though the game was not; constant fouls and free kicks for both teams broke up the majority of play. Half chances were exchanged, but neither keeper was called upon to make a save; the real action was in the crunching slide tackles slicing through the middle third of the pitch, most of which elicited deafening siren noises from the home crowd.
In the thirty-fifth minute, there was another penalty shout for Enfield. After a decent passing move initiated by Campbell, Whitely nicked the ball past Will Salmon and into the box. As he went to cut the ball back from the by-line, Salmon seemed to clip his heels from behind. Though Whitely, Campbell and the Town fans all appealed vociferously, the referee laughed this incident off. Again, this was a risky approach from the Met defender, one that might well have seen a spot kick granted.
The next ten minutes were devoid of chances; the Town fans sang some inventive police-related chants, and a hard-fought half came to an end. It would have taken an optimistic supporter to predict a goal fest to come but, conversely, there was a sense that a single moment of genius – or luck – could win it; there was still drama in the game.
After a few minutes of second half scrapping, Enfield had the best chance yet. A Met corner was cleared to Campbell, who went racing away down the right wing. Searle stormed off his line and was promptly rounded, leaving the net wide open; Campbell then pinged a perfect pass to Nathan Livings on the edge of the box, only for Livings to pump his shot high over the bar. Heads fell into hands on and off the pitch. That might well have been the crucial chance.
It certainly looked that way for the next forty-odd minutes. There were some threatening set pieces, quite a few bookings and many more half chances, but hardly any clear-cut opportunities; the Met went closest in the seventy-fourth minute from a stinging Joe Turner effort, but McDonald was equal to it. Campbell worked tirelessly for Enfield, but a scoreless draw seemed inevitable. A goal just would not come.
Then, in the eighty-eighth minute, Town won a free kick out on the left. The initial delivery was cleared by the Met’s massed defence, but the ball fell to substitute Darnell Wynter fifteen yards out; from there, he hooked an inch-perfect volley past the static Searle and in. Bradley Quinton’s Barmy Army went, well, barmy. That moment of genius had been coming after all; a few more minutes battling, and an unforgiving game ended with an agreeable result for the home side.
Result: Enfield Town 1 Metropolitan Police 0.
My MoM: Tyler Campbell. Hardest worker on the pitch, and always full of intent.
Best fans: the Town fans. ‘Nee-naw, nee-naw!’