Chichester City’s remarkable FA Cup adventure continues after a late goal from Lloyd Rowlatt sent them through to the fourth qualifying round in front of a bumper crowd at Oaklands Park.
Of the 368 teams that entered the competition in the extra preliminary round back in August Chi are the only one still left in the competition and a win away from the first round proper, a feat achieved only once by a Chichester City side.
The draw for the final round of qualifying, with National League sides entering this stage of the cup, takes place on Monday.
Enfield, who beat National League South Braintree Town in the previous round, came into the match as the in-form Isthmian Premier Division team. A win midweek moved the north London outfit up to third place in the league and in a sequence of six straight wins the Towners had kept five clean sheets.
Chi’s opponents were without top scorer Mo Faal but signed prolific striker Alex Read in time for the game and brought in 19-year-old Gillingham forward Roman Campbell on a month’s loan.
There were changes for the home side from the one that lined up in the FA Trophy last time out with Corey Heath, Jamie Horncastle, Josh Clack, and Scott Jones all returning to the starting XI. A fit again Callum Overton joined youngster Denis Gurau and midfielders Emmett Dunn and Rory Biggs on the bench with Ant Ender as back-up for Steve Mowthorpe
It was the underdogs that started the brighter and Rowlatt had two early shots. The first one skewed off target, the second gave Towners’ keeper Nathan McDonald something to think about. Jones next opened up the visitors’ back four with a jinking run before Kaleem Haitham, latching on to a mishit back pass, almost got in.
Enfield then lost Lewis Taffe with what seemed to be a hamstring injury. Jones blazed one over after a super Rowlatt tackle set Chi on the attack. The visitors began to slowly get into the game and Junior Mubiayi who’d come on for Taffe earned a first corner in the 9th minute. Sam Youngs whipped this in and Glenn Wilson found Ken Charles only for the No11 to head over.
Youngs caused problems in the next move but Chi defenders managed to tidy things up. Horncastle then almost beat McDonald to a Jones’ knock-down from Matt Axell’s set-piece before Mowthorpe was forced into a smart save on 15 minutes. Some good defending from Axell helped Chichester clear the next corner before Horncastle stung McDonald’s gloves at the other end.
Jon Muleba should have done better with a header that he glanced wide and Ryan Davidson reacted quickly to cut out a pass after a clever turn by Mubiayi. The visitors were edging things now and skipper Connor Cody recovered to get to the ball ahead of Read and guide it back to Mowthorpe.
Corey Heath, who defended resolutely with the rest of the back four, smuggled the ball away as Youngs forged an opportunity and then the Chi centre back was poleaxed in the box after the hosts won a corner. Nothing given, Charles drilled an effort into Mowthorpe’s midriff moments later as Enfield created more pressure. Heath, Hutchings, Cody and Davidson dug in though.
The game sparked into life after the break. McDonald punched away Rowlatt’s corner, a third one in as many minutes. A rapid raid down the flank set up a chance for Charles but Mowthorpe pulled off a fine save. Jones then went close; Haitham might have capitalised on a mistake at the back; and Heath dragged an effort wide as Chi threatened.
Glenn Wilson was given the first yellow card of the game in the 56th minute and Clack made McDonald work from the resulting free-kick, turning the ball out for a corner. Rob Hutchings hooked a cross away at the other end and Heath got his body in the way of a shot after nice link up play between Mubiayi and Youngs on the hour.
The hosts pressed. A brilliant challenge by Clack led to a delivery that Jones couldn’t quite get to and then an effort from the Chi winger wasn’t far off. Axell’s accurate pass sent Haitham scampering down the left. Haitham fed Horncastle and the midfielder’s fierce shot rattled the woodwork. Mowthorpe was called into action once again tipping a shot round his upright on 69 minutes before Rowlatt had a drive blocked.
Youngs and Wilson might have made more of opportunities as the game opened up before a typical mazy run from Cody saw the Chi captain burst through the middle of the park only to shoot tamely at McDonald. Overton, who came on for Axell, nearly got on the end of a Clack cross and then McDonald was out sharply to punch another corner clear.
Determined running from Jones presented Clack with another chance but his effort was charged down.
With less than five minutes to go Rowlatt grabbed the winner, his shot ricocheting off a defender after a slick move... and Oaklands Park erupted.
There was the odd scare or two in time added on but the hosts, who haven’t conceded now in their last four FA Cup matches, hung on for another memorable victory in this history making run, and perhaps the biggest upset of the day.
Chichester travel to Bedfordshire for the next round of the FA Trophy to play Barton Rovers on Saturday - then a week later it's FA Cup time again.
Before that they visit Three Bridges in the Velocity Trophy on Tuesday at Jubilee Field 7:45pm).
Chichester: Mowthorpe, Davidson, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Heath, Clack, Horncastle, Jones, Rowlatt, Haitham. Subs: Dunn, Biggs, Gurau, Overton.