Following Monday Afternoon's draw, Bowers & Pitsea and Canvey Island came into their Third Qualifying Round Replay knowing the winner would gain a genuine chance to progress to the First Round of the FA Cup, as they were guaranteed a draw against a side of lower of equal footing in the football ladder.
Both sides we boosted by personel returns as Ben Sartain made it to the Bowers bench, while Canvey saw a return to the starting eleven for Jason Hallett who had scored The Gulls replay winner in the previous round.
As the sun began to set over the Len Salmon Stadium fans filled into the newly erected Main Stand and talks predictions began to fill the air. Would Bowers finally click and run away with it, could the Magic of the Cup see Canvey beat the favourites, would there be extra time? Views from the Press Box suggested Extra Time, with one even predicting a penalty shootout.
The hosts, having not won a shootout under Rob Small's managerial tenure, set about quickly to avoid the sudden death of spot-kicks. They came close to opening in the sixth minute as Lewis Manor found Brad Warner but his low shot was turned away by Lamar Johnson. Joe Gardener sniffed out the opportunity of a rebound, but Johnson was immediately to his feet to punch the ball away to safety. The ball feel to the feet of Manor however, but Bowers all time leading goalscorer saw his shot deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Kenzer Lee headed goalwards but Johnson showed safe hands to gather the ball before David Knight fired wide moments later.
Small had spoken before the game about the need to "score more and concede less", and his side were punished when The Gulls scored against the run of play to begin the script of a possible cup upset. Dan Humphrey looked to have been sold a short pass from his centre half and with Warner bearing down on him the right back did well to evade the challenge of the Bowers winger. Humphrey drove forward and played a one-two with Tobi Joseph before sliding in Hallett. The forwards touch was heavy and allowed Callum Chafer to rush out and block his effort. The ball spilled clear though and Joseph was able to latch onto the rebound and smash Canvey into the lead.
A quick response is what the hosts needed but Canvey were buoyant from their goal and set about subduing Bowers and preventing the build up if more pressure. In fact, it was the visitors who looked more likely to score and had it not been for James Thomas, Jason Hallett would have certainly doubled The Gulls lead from Kane Gilbert's cutback.
Having been starved of the ball for a good 10 minutes Bowers finally began to build the pressure again as Max Cornhill fired over following neat exchanges between Knight and Quentin Monville. Knight then fired wide with a fierce drive across goal before Bowers set up camp inside The Gulls half. The hosts swung in countless balls into the Canvey box, but each were dealt with until just before half time when Warner jumped highest to head goalwards. Johnson was left flat footed and could only watch but the post came to his rescue as the header bounced clear.
Bowers continued the second half on the front foot and again Johnson was able to deny the hosts an equaliser, combining with the woodwork to tip Lee's header onto the bar. That was the eighth time that Bowers had hit the woodwork in their last three games, just two less than the amount from the entirety of the 2018/19 season! Johnson was called upon twice in fairly quick succession as he denied both Monville and Manor in one-on-one scenarios, having been played in by Knight and Warner respectively. It began to feel like it may not be Bowers night.
Callum Chafer, who had largely been quiet for most of the night bar picking the ball out of his net, came to the rescue as the game approached the hour mark, stopping Hallett's header in a moment that would have surely seen Canvey to victory. As had been the case with Bowers in the first half, Canvey were left to rue that chance as Bowers equalised in the 67th minute. What a fortunate goal is was too.
Warner picked the ball up on halfway and drove out to the left wing. He was denied the opportunity to travel down the line and as he was shown inside by Humphrey's, Warner realised he was left with one option of whipping the ball in with his weaker right foot. The cross was over hit and beat the waiting Knight and Manor, but such was the angle that the ball also beat Johnson and nestled inside the far right hand corner. With of all Bowers genuine efforts coming to nothing maybe it was in the script that this is how the hosts would get back in the game.
The men in red and the wind in their sails (well... shirts) and for the next period of play laid siege to the Canvey goal. Ben Sartain, who had come on for Joe Gardner, volleyed just wide with a cross was cleared to him before both Manor and Callum Leahy headed over from Monville crosses. Bowers continued to swing in countless crosses with neither Humphreys or his opposite full back Adetayo Osifuwa doing enough to combat the time that Warner, Monville, Thomas or Ryan Sammons had to cross.
The Gulls were able to weather the storm though and Joseph thought he had his second of the night, but his mishit shot lobbed agonisingly over the top of both Chafer and the crossbar. Osifuwa recieved the first yellow card of the evening, taking place in the 80th minute which led to praise from the press bench as to how well referee jack Packman had controlled the game so far.
The football was now end to end with Brad Warner firing just over the top following good build up play between Manor and Knight before Manor himself headed over the top from Knight's corner. You thought one clear cut chance was all either side needed to secure a dramatic win and as Josh Hutchinson's free kick found Hallett it seemed it would be Canvey progressing. But, the man who had scored the winner in The Gulls Second Qualifying Round Replay win over St Ives Town, could not repeat the outcome heading just wide.
So we went to Extra Time, and in truth it was the hosts who dominated it as Leahy saw at least two headers go over the top of the crossbar. Sartain, Thomas and Warner all saw efforts fly just wide or into the side netting but it was Monville who came closest to scoring, as he danced across the Canvey box before firing an effort goalwards that didnt quite have enough bend. Warner also put a well placed free kick just over the top on the stroke of Half Time in Extra Time. Both sides huffed and puffed in the second period of Extra Time, but as the minutes ticked away it became clear that this titanic tussle would be sorted by penalties. The real highlights came in the offences that drew yellow cards, as Sammons produced a dive that Tom Daley would be proud of to stop the counter attack of Osifuwa. However that was not enough to take Gold as Robert Lacey was on the pitch for a mere seven second before he decided to hitch a ride on Monville's shorts almost pulling them down in the process.
Captain Kenzer Lee barely had the chance to pick out which end the Bowers faithful were standing before Knight picked up the ball and marched towards the penalty spot. The most prolific scorer in non-league football in 2018/19 made no mistake sending Johnson the wrong way to get Bowers up and running. It was time for Chafer to put on his Hero cape as he dived to his left to keep out Joseph's penalty, and when Warner slotted his penalty into the bottom corner Bowers were 2-0 up in the shootout.
Substitute Ryan Melaugh, Manor, Osifuwa and Thomas traded penalties with all of the takers just about avoiding the hands of both Chafer and Johnson. Humphreys needed to score to keep Canvey in with a chance and he buried his spot-kick, sending it straight and into the roof of the net. So it came down to Callum Leahy. Score and Bowers reach the Fourth Qualifying Round for the first time in their history, miss and Canvey can continue to dream of replicating their famous run to the Third Round in 2001/2. Leahy's kick seemed to hang in the air for a lifetime as he curled an effort towards the top corner, it seemed to be all about placement and not any power. But Johnson guessed wrong and Leahy's penalty nestled in the top corner to send the Bowers players, manager, coaches staff and fans wild in jubilation.
Across the two fixtures the outcome seemed about right although nobody deserves the right to be eliminated via penalties. Bowers will face Chichester City, who impressively overcame Enfield Town 1-0, in the Fourth Qualifying Round with one of these sides guaranteed to make the First Round for the first ever time.
Will it be us? The Dream is very much alive!