Enfield (1893) 1-0 Dunstable Town (HT 0-0)
Dunstable’s return to Brimsdown Rovers’ old ground, now used by Enfield, along with two other clubs, was not a happy one as after seventy-nine minutes the only goal of the game came from what ought to have been a routine clearance. The ball struck an Enfield player and this deflection ran kindly enough for him to square the ball for the striker Chris Meirke to slot in the game’s only goal.
But a goal is a goal however fortuitous and with Newman Carney’s late free kick striking the foot of a post as well as some other narrow misses luck was not with Dunstable today. Both sides were not particularly favoured with some very uneven refereeing, and again Dunstable came of the worst here with a confident shout for a penalty as early as the eighth minute. Tony Burnett had burst into the penalty area and he was hauled back by the shirt on the blind side of the referee with the assistant referee equally unmoved.
This all sounds very biased but Enfield supporters near me had agreed sotto voce that it ‘was a good shout’ and that the E’s were fortunate not to be penalised. They were also in agreement with me concerning a second strong call later in the half but again the referee dismissed the appeals.
This game was rightly seen as an intriguing tie with the home side second in the Essex Senior League,, and the visitors topping the Spartan Premier and hitherto unbeaten in a league game. Enfield (1893) then versus Dunstable Town, 1894 as it happens. This is the surviving Enfield that claims the illustrious history – including two final successes in the forerunner of the FA Vase, the Amateur Cup, and I was at Wembley in 1970 when they smashed Dagenham 5-1. I also saw them win an FA Trophy in a replay at WBA after drawing with Telford United 0-0 at Wembley. Yes, I was supporting the E’s at that time.
This was the first meeting of the sides for some seven years. The last time we met, in the Ryman League, Dunstable won 5-1 at Borehamwood, and 2-1 at Creasey Park. But the current Enfield are, of course, a long way from the really great sides of the past who were on the very fringes of joining the Football League, having won the Conference.
As the decline set in there emerged two separate clubs and their own bitter rivals, Enfield Town, formed only a few years ago have made it to the Ryman League. They play at Donkey Lane as Dunstable’s supporter ‘118’ found when he went there by mistake. ‘They told me to sod off’ lamented 118 when he had recovered from his spirited dash to Goldsdown Road on his touring bicycle. He also added that with my directions he was glad I was not a bomb aimer in the war. ‘You would have done for Dover thinking it was Hamburg’.
But this current Enfield are a bustling, raw-boned side whose defensive capabilities were well in evidence this afternoon on a heavy pitch. It was an absorbing game of limited opportunities but before anyone casts aspersions at Paul Taylor - his error would not have mattered if the Duns had done the business earlier.
When the Blues or rather the Reds today, got beyond the home back four there was sufficient combinative play and, it needs to be said, some questionable finishing. Both goal keepers dropped a cross which could have led to a snaffled goal and it did occur to me that as in a tight game of chess, a single error could be emphatically exploited.
The home keeper, Ashley Harris had a predilection for punched clearances and they were effective, but his relatively poor handling and lack of complete judgment seemed to make him vulnerable. Taylor did not have a bad game overall and I feel it would be wrong to attribute the loss to him entirely. Roache and Cooper both saw efforts go only just wide, and shots from Frater were straight at the keeper. Roache seized on a loose ball and advances and had his finishing been a tad better that would have been the opener. Burnett, who had been enterprising, saw his header miss the target and Enfield’s Aaron Scott cleverly denied Roache with a tied intervention.
Cooper was more or less on song but found it hard to get on the real freedom to give his creativity more edge. Carney’s free kicks were inviting but the best result from these was an optimistic header from Burnett.
I have forgotten to mention the debut for Dunstable for Dan Hewitt, lately signed from AFC. He is a central defender. Enfield had a box of tricks in their centre-forward Chris Meikle, but it was noticeable that defenders from both sides were not in a giving vein. Yet it was also noticeable that the home side were a little goal shy and the bulk of Taylor’s work was cutting out crosses. At times it seemed a dour struggle, and a ground hopper from Sussex was holding forth in an unsolicited manner about the lack of goals. This is not to say that there was little goalmouth action, as there was a goodly amount but it did not favour the strikers.
One successful striker, so I learned, but not in this game, was that our illustrious chairman claimed to have scored a goal against Enfield in a cup tie in 1964. No further details are available at the time of going to press.
A free kick by Gliddon was headed away and I noticed Mills and Mead were anxious to get forward as well as being superb in their full-back roles. The referee was attracting criticism by both sets of supporters for what seemed a number of erroneous decisions and he seemed not to want to play the advantage – bringing play back in pedantic manner. We were still nonplussed at his failure to award the two penalty claims and I feel sure that had the incidents occurred outside the box he would have routinely awarded a free-kick. But who knows? We had gone the whole half without a goal and play was tight. Enfield, like Dunstable could put together passes and retain possession for the best moment, but this was largely unfulfilled. Hutchins was among the players who tried to bustle through but the marking was always effective from the home side.
At half-time there was a consensus that there would not be many goals, if any and the prospect of extra-time was not a negative, but a realistic view. Enfield are by nowhere near the best side the Duns have played this season, but they were coping well in defence and battling effectively in midfield. If anything there was something too prosaic about Dunstable. Hewitt’s slip midway in the half could easily have been exploited and it needed Mead to clear up showing that the margin for error could have been expensive. So the better chances had fallen to the visitors yet they did betray an occasional vulnerability to being hit on the break – especially along the flanks.
The floodlights finally came on to no spectacular effect, being slung rather low but they were adequate, reminding me of our interim scaffolding Heath-Robinson job before the redevelopment.
Following Taylor-Forbes booking Carney’s free kick was beaten out, and the pattern of play was largely the same. Stout defending of speculative forays. Free kicks a plenty and Frater and Olaleye came on as substitutes for Hutchins and Pickering. The tempo suited Moses Olaleye and he was soon in combative mode as was Nathan Frater who was hounded as much as Roache had been. Enfield had prevented Roache from having just the extra second or two he needed but both he and Frater did manage to turn their markers a few times.
Enfield had a chance put straight at Taylor, a moderate appeal for an Enfield penalty was called for out of a sense of duty and hope, but not from their players. Frater’s weak shot came from a Carney pass and Bufano performed a smart piece of defending. Roache was fairly bundled off the ball as he squared for a shooting chance. It was beginning to look more and more like a draw at full time. Cooper tried to get through was brought down, but ruled as legitimate, as it was. Burnett forced a corner. This was headed over the bar by new boy Hewitt.
Frater was dispossessed in another move, Carney’s free kick begged for connection but the ball sailed majestically to the touch line, another chance gone. I was feeling more and more that Carney would be the instigator of a successful move given his vision and tenacity, but he was as harried as the others. A further corner was swept in to an anti-climax, and still we waited for a goal. Burnett’ flick to Roache saw the striker bundled away and Enfield countered until a Bufano tackle ended that. The counter move was halted for a free-kick when there would have been grounds for playing the advantage. I noticed that the sly shirt pulling was on the increase and unpunished. Olaleye to Burnett who ran into traffic, said my notes. There was a lot of traffic indeed.
Great work from Burnett saw a chance from Frater who really ought to have converted from close in. Then, disaster.
A routine move from Enfield saw Taylor come out to clear and his sliced effort saw the ball deflected and with the keeper out of position it was a simple matter of a square ball and a tap in. Yes, Taylor could have done better, and it was a crying shame to go behind from such an error yet as I have said a goal is a goal and if we had done that we would care nothing for a lack of finesse. It put a different texture on the game and it did bring a spirited bout of attacking from Dunstable. Cooper’s shot cannoned off a defender, the resulting corner of negligent worth. Enfield knew they needed to keep it tight and this they did, more or less.
Ashley Harris may have had a limited repertoire in his manner of preventing goals, but he put the punch into Enfield, literally so. Roache was brought down outside the area and what a heartache it was to see Carney’s superb free kick strike the bottom of the post with Harris beaten. It was significant that the best effort should come from a set piece, but it was worthy of an equaliser. Still Dunstable came forward, but final success eluded them. There is little doubt that their efforts deserved a goal, but it was not to be, despite further efforts, particularly from Carney. His next free kick was a good delivery but Harris again punched clear. Cooper on a run retained possession but he was forced wide yet Carney put it over the bar, not noticing the off-side flag. The last few minutes were characterised by Dunstable attacks and quick counter moves and just a little time wasting from Enfield, and yes, we would have done the same. Johnson was booked for a foul on Roache. Carney’ free kick again blazed in front of goal for want of a connecting boot. Another corner for Dunstable was held by the keeper and that was about it, really.
This was the second loss, and far more unsettling than the first in the FA Cup replay at Ashford Town. Dunstable had played a little below par but easily matched their opponents, but outfield players must share any blame with Taylor. Roache was good but not evincing that bit of magic that brings equalisers and winners. Frater was held at bay and Burnett was not bequeathed a little bit of luck. Cooper was again outstanding yet mostly contained.
It was ironic to lose against a team that would probably be a mid-table side in the Spartan League – but this was a cup game and they got the goal that mattered however much it was due to an error and, as I have punned, a slice of luck. You must give credit to Enfield for their defensive nous and their tenacity in midfield and their refusal to allow the freedom that often results in goals.
Matters were literally gloomy in the changing rooms when I went to collect the kit, their being series of power failures.
I caught Moses’ attention and quoted from Tennessee Williams. ‘Where was Moses when the light went out? Answer, ‘in the dark’. When the light came on, the bemused looks informed me that perhaps Williams’ famous play ‘The Glass Menagerie’ had not yet penetrated Brimsdown. Outside an Enfield official brandished a torch to assist the exit of disgruntled players. Perhaps the torch suggested that the power problem was not restricted to today.
Dunstable had lacked the bit of power they needed today, but I feel the consensus was that they deserved a lot more from this game – at the very least extra time. Yet it was of their own making and maybe this defeat will give them impetus to carry on the unbeaten run in the league, ad as a side issue I can report that St Mags won at home today and if they in their remaining games in hand they will be level with Dunstable. Our next venture also away will be at Colney Heath next Saturday, 15 December. That is a feisty place to go and will indeed be a challenge.
I need not report the express disappointment of the Dunstable managers but it did reflect the view held that the referee does bear the brunt of particular criticism in some major decisions. I am sure his integrity was intact and one of his assistants ought to have spotted the more obvious penalty claim of the two that were dismissed. But I do recall Dunstable being on the favoured side of such decisions in one recent game. Swings and roundabouts. But we had all hoped that progress could have and indeed should have been made today. A fortuitous goal, but a goal nevertheless and it put paid to Dunstable’s progress after two excellent performances against Barking and Peterborough Northern Star. Fickle fortune deserted us today.
Ashley Harris, Joe McGuinness, Matt Roberts, Ricky Edwards, Aaron Scott, Tom Hopkins, Aaron Cato, Shaun Gliddon, Chris Meikle, goal, 79 minutes, Ashley Taylor-Forbes, cautioned, Bradley Drisdale.
Substitutes- Darren Williams, Jermain Osei, Julian Edwards, Neil Hughes and Chet Johnson, cautioned.
Paul Taylor, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, Fabio Bufano, Daniel Hewitt, Damen Pickering, Newman Carney, Jonathan Cooper, Lee Roache, Tony Burnett, Daniel Hutchins.
Substitutes- Nathan Frater and Moses Olaleye.
Not used – Jonathan Barnett, George Brinkman and Graeme Buchanan.