Well that was bloody ridiculous. To come from behind to lead at half-time, before looking deservedly beaten with about 5 minutes to go, and somehow end up with all three points… no one really knows how this happened, but anyone who was there won’t forget tonight for ages. And if you weren’t, sucks to be you.
Not going to lie – Clapton were a disjointed shambles tonight. It’s not that the players selected aren’t all reliable, but there was not much evidence of the click we’ve seen in the the first two games, let alone the complete team performance that saw us thrash these opponents in the Brasted final in April.
Our starting line-up was one which made it look like Mike is still trying players out. Nathan Cook was missing (and sorely missed). No Geoff Ocran (still regaining fitness). Tony Cookey and Tom Webb on the bench. Reece Hewitt, a MOTM contender in the 10 role on Saturday, was filling in for Jerry (who’s OK, but in Mallorca) at left-back. Speedy new lad Johnny Ashman was deployed in front of him instead of down the right where he has created unparalleled havoc in his first two games. And the returning Roddy Lemba was on the right instead of up top.
It all felt a bit awkward and Clapton never settled. Stansted pressed high, moved quickly, and always seemed more comfortable. Their No7 had already exposed Hewitt’s ill fit a couple of times, spooning an absolute sitter wide, before capitalising on a mix-up to slide in the opener.
As with Bari’s equaliser at the weekend, we replied quite quickly with a well worked goal, Nyanja knocking down for strike partner Will Mowbray, on his first start, to finish confidently. It was a relief because Stansted not only had a goal, but the composure as well.
The relief became pure joy not long before half-time. Lemba’s attempt to bring a loose ball on the edge of the Stansted box under control saw a defender hoof it right onto his outstretched boot, and high, high over the stranded keeper. I wish Jerry had been there to see it – it was right out of the book of freak goals that Stansted ripped off to beat us at their windy place last season when Jerry filled in for Pape in goal. Still shudder at the memory.
So we were in front at the break, and the second half started with our defence looking a bit more composed than it had (we miss Peter Moore, full stop). It felt like it would take some quality to break us down. But that’s what happened. Within seconds of Freddie Morris half-connecting with a great opportunity, the Scaffold got perfect view of a Stansted free-kick that Briggsy would have been proud of. 2-2. And minutes later a really lovely team goal seemed to have settled it in their favour.
Clapton were stunned, and really didn’t look like they had any response. Stansted deserved their lead, and Clapton certainly deserved to be behind. All three subs were made, with Djibril taking over at left-back and releasing Hewitt from his shackles, the busy Scott Lawton on in midfield, and Cookey on for Roddy. But it was all a bit desperate and clueless. The game became niggly, with Stansted players spending a bit more time on the deck and (ahem) a few of us taking our frustration out on the ref.
But the visitors began to sit deep, and the din from the Scaffold, perhaps given a little extra nudge by the ref’s decisions, started to sting the ears. Hewitt, now freed up, was able to spray the ball around. Ashman was getting double marked and was still a nuisance (my money is him being at Brentwood by December). Then, with five minutes or so left, Cookey darted into the box. Defenders tried to shut him down, but whether by luck or design, the ball went loose across the 6-yard box. Ninja got to it first to stab into an open net. The Scaffold blew.
I reckon we would all have taken a point at this stage. I would’ve. It was already cheeky. And it looked like Mike concurred, cos when we finally got a decision out of the ref with a freekick out on the left, only four of ours went up for it. One was Cookey, though, and he rose sharply to flick on a wicked centre (it must have been one of Hewitt or Ashman) past their keeper.
Absolute fucking scenes.
There wasn’t even enough time remaining to get nervous. Another amazing game which ranks alongside any of the outrageous comebacks in the last two years. And it should be acknowledged, there are only two consistent factors in Clapton’s recent history of digging deep and clawing points back from hopeless causes: the fans and the manager.
The last one of these, of course, was the last-minute draw against Bowers in April, and much like that game the celebrations went on long after the final whistle…
“Clapton in the morning and last thing at night. Singing in the Scaffold, you know it feels right.”