They say 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football. No longer is that true; try a 3-0 lead away from home after 82 minutes against a bottom-half rival. Turns out that is in fact the most dangerous lead of all.
The screams from the home support, after Antonis Vasiliou tapped home a fourth goal in the seventh minute of added time to rescue 3 three points for the Blues (and rescued they undoubtedly were), were a visceral outpouring of emotion after 90 minutes that were simply unmatched. It was football at its purest and a reminder to all present, no matter whether you were Red or Blue, that the first lesson we are taught on the pitch, to play to the final whistle, is no less true today than it was when we were growing up.
Things had started brightly for the home side on a brisk Valentines evening in N12. They looked assured on the ball in the opening stages, twice going close before half time. First it was eventual match-winner Vasiliou who was put through on goal, rounded the keeper, and fired towards the net, only to see his shot excellently cleared off the line by Bowers centre half Jamal Allan.
Kearney, who would end up with two goals on the night, also went close in the first half, chesting down a corner at the far post, and firing just wide from a tight angle.
0-0 at half time.
The second half, or 37 minutes of it, was a complete role reversal. It was Bowers who were more assured in possession, breaking quickly when they had the chance, and being quicker and stronger to a man across the pitch.
They first made their opponents pay on 55 minutes when the Blues were unable to clear from inside their box, allowing centre half Allan to tuck home. The assistant referee raised his flag to rule the goal out for offside, but the referee overruled, determining the last touch to have come from a Wingate defender, and so the goal stood.
A second quickly followed, this time from a corner as it was swung into the near post, where former Wingate defender Dexter Peter rose highest and nodded home against his former club.
Bowers deserve a lot of credit for the way they continued to push, even at two nil to the good. They still broke quickly, and it paid off when two became three after Harrison Carnegie got the ball 25 yards out, drove forward smartly, and finished excellently from the edge of the area. He bent the ball low and right into the corner, past Ben Goode’s outstretched left glove. 3-0, and the game looked dead and buried.
It could have even been four as Harry Papadopoulos, who was a nuisance up front all game for the visitors, came close late on; the unthinkable only averted thanks to a last ditch tackle by Camron Gbadebo. If only we had known then how crucial that tackle turned out to be.
Momentum shifted with the introduction of Sammy Ompreon, who came on up front for the home side, and was able to use his strength and pace to move the ball quickly and beat his man on a number of occasions. On 82 minutes, he managed to cut into the box from the left wing, and was bundled over from behind. A penalty was awarded, and Dylan Kearney stepped up to fire it into the right hand corner, sending the keeper the wrong way to net his 13th goal of the season. 3-1.
Just four minutes later, a similar run from Ompreon, this time from the right inside channel, was punctuated by a similar lack of composure from the defenders, as Ryan Huckle brought him down when he was through on goal. Deja vu. Kearney again stepped up, keeping his calm when others around him were starting to lose theirs, this time going to the opposite corner. 3-2. 4 minutes to play.
6 minutes of injury time were greeted with optimism from the Blues, who by this point had all the momentum. In contrast, their opponents were suffering cramp (whether actual, or tactical is up for debate) and looked visibly on edge. But they can’t have been expecting what happened next.
Ben Goode, captain of the Blues, charged forward from the back for a Wingate corner, aiming to use his height and aerial presence in the opposition box for once. The first corner saw him fly towards the ball and get his head on it, only for it to be deflected behind for a second corner. This time, the warning shot fired, he rose unmarked and made cleaner contact with his head, guiding the ball over the line - and only just over the line - before Osaghae in the Bowers goal could scoop it clear. He wheeled away, his orange shirt buried beneath a sea of ecstatic blue, as it looked like he had rescued a point for his side at the death.
Shouts of ‘Let’s win it now’ soon could be heard through the night, and Wingate again came forward as the clock ticked past 96 minutes. And Win It was exactly what they did, as Antonis Vasiliou was able to get onto the end of a cross from the right with his outstretched leg to poke it beyond the goalkeeper, rendering most of us lucky enough to witness this comeback of all comebacks in the stadium entirely speechless.
3-0 down with 8 minutes to play. 2 penalties, a goalkeeper goal, and a winner in the seventh minute of added time.
While many were with their loved ones this Valentines, this game was a reminder of why we follow this sport and this team through thick and thin. The love of the game is unrivalled, and tonight it really put on a show.
The Blues, who have now taken 7 points from their last 9, are on the road on Saturday, taking on Horsham, before coming back home next Tuesday night to welcome Carshalton Athletic. See you there!
By Chris Cummings
Photo by Martin Addison