Some games ebb, their story arc shifting subtly on key moments and individual contributions. Not this one. Enfield-Clapton hurtled by like a badly edited movie car chase, careering more and more out of control until it all went over the cliff. It was a big, daft, beautiful pile-up.
Any anticipation ahead of the game, at least from a Clapton point of view, was based on it being James Briggs’ first game against the Tons. At the same time we got to welcome another returning hero back in the red and white, as Fahad Nyanja made his latest (how many’s that now?) comeback.
Nyanja, who remained Clapton’s top scorer throughout his recent two-months at Ryman North Bowers & Pitsea, started on the bench. It was just one of a few surprises in the starting line-up given the lack of goals lately. The rare privilege of a flat surface provided by the plastic pitch might have suited Nathan Cook a treat, but he started as a sub as well. Instead, Andre Thomas, deputising for the unwell Jonny Fowell, picked the speedy Jonny Ashman and Ryan Reed as out-and-out wingers.
Both pestered Enfield all first half long. The impressive Reed had probably his best game yet on the left, pulling his markers all over the place with his tight control and cut-ins. On the other flank Ashman was skating past his fullback before whipping in a series of crosses. The plan was clearly to stretch the play and hit them at pace.
The fast, bouncy pitch still dictated the play, though. Time and again overhit passes ran beyond their target. For Enfield Briggsy hardly had chance to use his passing game, and you have never seen him win so many headers, mostly as loose balls popped up off the springy surface.
AJ Domingo-Carrington, meanwhile, seemed hungry, and he was unlucky with two great chances, especially when sliding wide after getting in behind Enfield’s back line. Siao Blackwood also clipped a header against the post from a deft Rafa Duyile cross.
But in between the waves of Clapton attacks, Enfield had capitalised on a much-changed defence (Dylan Ebengo, facing his former team, was partnered by young debutant Quincy Egbejale) to take the lead, Sivi Bao slamming home a loose ball clinically. Enfield somehow led at the break.
After a half time which saw Neil Ruddock, apparently a friend of manager Matthew Hanning, give the hosts’ half-time pep talk, Clapton struck the goalframe two more times in the first five minutes.
An equaliser was surely on its way. But then the loss of Egbejale to a hip injury meant a reshuffle. Nyanja came on up front, and the 3-5-2 formation gave Enfield space to exploit. Clapton lost momentum and the game became a tatty, if compelling, end-to-end affair. We probed desperately, but the hosts sniffed a second. Richie Robins had to pull off two amazing saves, but If anything, it was Enfield’s goalkeeper Josh Knight who emerged as probably the man of the match as Clapton threw the lot at him.
First he tipped a thunderous AJ effort onto the bar. Then he got down sharply to tip a low Sardinha shot past the post, before saving bravely at the feet of Rafa. Nothing was going to pass.
By now Cook was on, and Clapton were camped on the edge of the Enfield box, save for the occasional breakaway scare. But between Knight’s heroics, a pretty solid defence, and some wasteful set pieces, the hosts were holding on stoutly.
And then in the last minute Enfield backed off too far. Clapton flooded the hosts’ box. A shot, blocked, then a deep cross. Knight came, hesitated, and the ball fell for Rafa to the left of the goal. He pulled it back to the on-rushing sub James Steers, who drove it into the ground and up, via the desperate Knight and a goal-line thigh, into the roof of the net. Relief poured from the bench and the Ultras behind them.
Briggsy said afterwards that the equaliser had finished his team-mates. Only time could save the hosts, but they would come to rue the time-wasting that started the minute they took the lead. For Clapton, having looked once again like they were never going to score, a winner now seemed inevitable. And while Knight pulled off one more act of acrobatics to thwart AJ, the ball struck the bar, bounced down and sat up in the six yard box. All that Nyanja needed to do was prod it across the line. Every single member of Clapton staff, including the unused subs and Robins in goal, piled on with glee. Only the Ryman regulation-height fences prevented the Ultras joining them.
Clapton had, for the third time this season, pinched an at-the-death win from the jaws of defeat. Insodoing they notched a fourth successive away win against a team who had won four in five. The numbers are impressive in themselves, but they barely do justice to the latest had-to-be-there moment in the Ultras era at Clapton.