Eastbourne Borough manager Tommy Widdrington may feel more than a year older after seeing his side squeeze into the next round of the FA Cup on Tuesday night.
On the evening prior to his 42nd birthday he witnessed the game swing back and forth all evening, with Borough twice within minutes of bowing out, before Lewis Carey’s final penalty save – his second of the shoot-out – secured the most dramatic of victories.
On nights like this, it is impossible not to love Non-League. The “Towners” were affable hosts, passionate opponents and generous losers.
The mutual applause between home supporters and the victorious Borough players was a credit to both – and a lesson to those who think that football is about replica Premier League shirts.
The quality of play wasn’t always grand. Borough would have liked more time on the ball and more opportunity to play, but Enfield were in their faces from the start, and Carey was forced into a smart double save from Kalu’s early free-kick and follow-up.
But the Sports, playing well in patches, went on to create the better chances in the first half-hour, Dean Sinclair and Darren Lok hitting shots over before Lok’s low scorcher drew a superb diving save from Nathan McDonald.
And on 33 minutes they were ahead. Marvin Hamilton, nominally with the number two on his back but always looking for forward openings, picked up a ball from Adam Watts in the inside-left channel, loped past one challenge and scudded a low shot into the right hand corner.
Three minutes after the break, in a nightmare ninety seconds, the visitors conceded goals to Cousins and Kalu – both poorly defended, battering-ram attacks – and suddenly the visibly winded Sports looked like non-swimmers in the deep end.
Gavin McCallum, left on the bench after some recent ineffective displays, replaced Ryan Worrall on the hour, and instantly Borough had a new attacking spark.
With Dean Bown also on for an injured Ian Simpemba, Eastbourne were now pulling Enfield apart – but running out of time. Then finally, with nine minutes left, McCallum produced a brilliant turn and cross to find Sinclair, who scored emphatically from close range. Three minutes later he repeated the trick, hitting a wicked diagonal ball that Johnson turned in at the back post.
They thought it was all over, but they reckoned without Town player-manager Brad Quinton, who – having ironically brought himself on to steady the ship at 2-1 – smacked in an equaliser from a corner. So we moved into the penultimate chapter: extra time.
Referee Andrew Degnarain left Borough distraught with a tame penalty, awarded against Kiran Khinda-John and despatched by Doyle for 4-3.
Yet again Borough needed to dig deep, and they did. After another dazzling run by Sam Beale, McDonald could only scoop out the high ball from under the bar, and Bown pounced to send the game to penalties.
Three apiece scored – including a triumphant spot kick by Carey himself – and one apiece saved. And then the final two kicks. Hamilton sent McDonald the wrong way, and so Enfield skipper Mark Kirby had to score. But the strong right arm of Lewis Carey kept him out, and sent his brave Enfield team out.
Enfield sank to their knees, while Carey’s team-mates surged from the halfway line to engulf him in celebration. They were still six miles and nine more rounds from Wembley, but in that instant they might as well have been on the sacred turf itself. What a night.
Borough: Carey; Khinda-John, Simpemba (Bown 73), Watts; Hamilton, Sinclair (Foot 87), Aldred, Beale; Worrall (McCallum 60), Lok, Johnson.
MoM: Lewis Carey
Referee: Andrew Degnarain