Dramatic cup final worth waiting for

Enaté United’s left-back Rob Kazandjian talks us through the Camden Sunday League Junior Cup final – a showpiece more than a year in the waiting

Thursday, 20th May 2021 — By Rob Kazandjian

Enaté United IMG_6331

The Enaté United players celebrate with their manager, Julius Patrick

AFTER more than 12 months of waiting, Enaté United took to the field against Heavyn FC to settle the Camden Sunday League’s delayed 2019/20 John Bender Junior Cup.

We were struggling as a newly-promoted team in Division One. At times, our football was worse than our luck. We were yet to win a game this season. Heavyn had been promoted with us and were flying in the league.

Our inspirational gaffer, Julius Patrick, had re-injured the ACL he’d torn against them in a league game two years ago and would be watching from the sidelines. It didn’t bode well.

When we arrived at Hackney Marshes, there was a special energy about the squad. Thursday’s training session had been sharp.

After becoming a dad on Christmas Day, and then spending a few months embracing the dad-bod lifestyle, I finally felt fit and was proud that my daughter was pitchside in her pushchair.

I knew within a couple of minutes that we’d win. Our midfield three of Josh “Rolls Royce” Corden, Luke Shepherd and Nerijus Labzentis quickly took control of the game with crisp passing and intelligent pressing.

Twenty minutes in, record goal-scorer Mkulu “The Kid” Lee met a whipped free-kick at the back-post, sending the ball into the far corner with a cultured volley.

We pushed on. After a liquid move, Matt Hill met my low cross but fired it against the woodwork. Heavyn’s keeper tipped one onto the bar and made a couple more scrambled saves.

We should have been out of sight.

Heavyn made changes at half-time and upped the intensity. Our veteran centre-back pairing of Matt Connolly and Felipe Kwast Martins stayed composed. Our goalie Matt “Safe Hands” Coates was yet to make a save. Then we were hit with a sudden one-two, conceding from a penalty and a cross to go 2-1 down.

Mkulu ‘The Kid’ Lee hit a hat-trick in the cup final

We regrouped. Luke broke Heavyn’s lines before laying on Mkulu to slot away his second.

Matt Hill then got on the end of Joe Benjamin’s delicious pass and expertly dinked Heavyn’s flailing goalie.

We were 3-2 up and cruising with around half-an-hour to go. But Hill lives life on the edge, and received a second yellow card while giving me some much-needed defensive cover.

Playing with 10 men only deepened our resolve as Heavyn tried to turn the screw.

With the clock winding down, Heavyn were awarded a corner, from which they equalised with a back-post header.

It ended 3-3 after 90 minutes. We didn’t panic. Matt Connolly had promised the gaffer that if we were leading at half-time, we’d win the game.

Extra-time kicked off.

The legendary Joey Paton replaced me at left-back and immediately snuffed out an attack. Soon after, Marco’s floated pass found “The Kid” on the right wing. He toasted Heavyn’s left-back and then completed his hat-trick with a magical “he definitely meant that” effort from wide.

Of his heroic performance, Mkulu said: “It feels good to help deliver another trophy to the boys. The senior players really did step up to the plate.

“Mentally we weren’t gonna be beaten.”

Heavyn huffed and puffed without creating. I came back on, Ollie “Baz” Liyanage, whose participation was doubtful after a hamstring injury and a busy weekend, was on the pitch, too.

With a couple of minutes to go, Mkulu broke again on the right. “Baz” went through the gears, racing into the box. He wanted the ball. He got the ball. Goal. He celebrated with his shirt off and was booked.

The game was a wrap, Enaté winning it 5-3.

Our captain, Julius, explained what this means to all of us.

“The lads had really struggled over the last year, lockdown clearly had a massive impact on all of us,” he said. “It’s easy to have already given up when you have had the run we had going into this game, or go looking for a bit of luck.

“There was nothing lucky about that performance. The boys were mentally and physically prepared, and this was our opportunity to turn everything around.

“They were clear in their intention, they were calm and collected on the pitch, and most of all they believed in themselves.

“I’m inspired to be part of this team. Champions on and off the pitch, every single one of them.”

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