DULWICH DREAMS DASHED ON BOGNOR ROCKS
Bognor Regis Town 1 Dulwich Hamlet 0
Ryman Isthmian League Division One South Play-Off Final
Sunday 6th May 2012
"We all have our time machines, don't we? Those that take us back are memories...And those that carry us forward are dreams." H. G. Wells
Amidst the celebrations that rocked Nyewood Lane spare a tear for fallen Hamlet, vanquished once more at the final hurdle and condemned to another season way from the élite of the Isthmian League. Some may find consolation in defeat at the hands of such worthy foes, themselves victims of a catastrophic fall from heady heights of recent times, twice relegated, pricked by the bony fingers of financial Armageddon and throwing away a certain title in the final throes of the previous season. Then, as now, the playoffs had pitted Dulwich and Bognor in combat in Sussex fields. That evening Dulwich had provoked ire amongst the ignorati by daring to beat Bognor in the semi-final despite a 31-point chasm separating them in the league. Today the gap was tighter. Both sides had felt a grip on the title and automatic promotion. Both had felt it slip to snatched away as Whitehawk's investments paid off in the final run in, leaving the Rocks and the Hamlet to negotiate tricky playoff semis in midweek. The outcome of those could not have been more different, Dulwich dispatching a under par Folkestone Invicta thanks to a Ray Powell double, the game nowhere near as tight as the final 2-1 scoreline suggested. Not so on the Sussex coast as Godalming, dark horse cantering up the rail, fought tooth and nail before succumbing in a nail-biting penalty shootout following a dingdong 4-4 draw in front of an incredulous throng.
Having seen their side ship so many goals, it was perhaps no surprise that the Bognor management duo opted to recall Stuart Axten in the heart of defence following his ill-timed three-match suspension whilst the experience of Stuart Harper was preferred to young Harvey Whyte on the right flank. Meanwhile Gavin Rose stuck to the side that had done the job in midweek.
Though the air was cold and damp the fans continued to stream into the ground as the players lined up to be presented to the dignitaries. Space on the terraces was at a premium as every nook and cranny started to fill, green army and pink and blue battalions breaking into song.
Perhaps it was the nerves, perhaps it was the legacy of the midweek exertions but early signs did not augur well for the classic some had hoped for. Too fast, too frenetic, not enough space as early invention was throttled out of the game. Though home skipper Dan Beck had a decent effort deflected away for a corner, the first true chance of the afternoon fell to the Hamlet after nine minutes. Nyren Clunis, back to his best on the right, had already been testing the water and when his delivery picked out Peter Adeniyi striding into space on the edge of the area, a goal seemed on the cards. However, on the slick surface, the midfield man's shot lacked power, a scooped shot from eight yards out finally claimed by big Craig Stoner at the second time of asking as it threatened to bobble over him.
For a moment, Terry Dodd looked to have broken free but he lost control at the vital moment having got the better of Francis Duku. Better effort from Kane Wills soon after as he chanced his arm with a steamer from fully 30 yards out, Phil Wilson stretching every sinew to tip the ball away for a corner kick. As enigmatic as Kaspar Hauser, little had been seen of Ashley Robison until he pulled a cracker out of the bag, a stinging low shot from 25 yards out battered away for another corner by the diving Wilson. Prelude to a goal, one of imitate simplicity as the axe fell on Hamlet hopes, Axten meeting Ben Johnson's corner with a hammer header home.
Dulwich girded their loins and went off in search of a rapid response. Clunis continued to be the spark to the flame, his crosses keeping the Rocks defence on their toes as the pace of the game grew ever faster. The lion's share of possession belonged to the visitors yet resolute defence kept the Hamlet at bay as the crosses continued to rain in, Axten leading by example though he was caught short when Kevin James met the ball only to pop his header over the crossbar.
A chink of light opened up as Ben Andrews tangled with Powell on the edge of the area, the defender cautioned. Ahmed Deen and James eyed up the opportunity, power or precision, which would it be? The latter but James' curler flew to high and the danger passed.
With halftime beckoning both sides were forced into telling substitutions, Bognor losing precocious wingback Daryl Wollers, Dulwich shorn of James' deadeye from the dead ball as he limped off to be replaced by Sanchez Ming.
"Do you not then hear this horrible scream all around you that people usually call silence?" More of the possession, less of the chances the post-mortem for a first half. Second half began with Dulwich once more holding the territorial whip hand. Hamlet blitzing from the first whistle - Clunis blasting a fraction over from the edge of the box after a corner was only half-cleared. Yet still too many big balls into the box, if Stoner did not pluck them off the heads of the Dulwich attack, Axten seemed to have the hundred heads of the hydra to nod them away. The Rocks rejoindered as James Crane belted down the left finding Dodd, who took a touch before being denied as Wilson saved low at his near post.
Then fortune smiled on the Hamlet. Stoner climbing through a forest of players to punch away a deep cross from Ming, could only reach Omarr Lawson lurking on the edge of the area. A whip crack shot first time seemed on target until it struck the forearm of Beck, turning his back on the ball. Not a moment's hesitation from Mr Da Costa, the man in black pointing straight to the spot to hand Hamlet a lifeline before compounding Beck's pain with a yellow card. Had James been on the field it might have been his responsibility to despatch the spot kick. Ming bit the bullet, stepped up to the mark but to the anguish of all of a pink and blue persuasion, Stoner preguessed him falling on the ball as the condemned man might his reprieve. In the wake of this Bognor pulled in their horns, ingenious attacker Robinson withdrawn to be replaced by the more defensive minded Sonny Cobbs.
Soon Ming had the chance to atone, finding space on the edge of the area but his hurried shot was always swinging wide of the back stick. More firepower to the cannons as Lawson made way for Hamlet's leading sharpshooter Frankie Sawyer.
Chance for Bognor to drive a nail in Hamlet's coffin as Beck's shot took a wicked deflection almost setting up Harper, only for the normally deadly finisher to suffer a rush of blood and lob the ball high over crossbar and bar. One for the Hamlet as Powell battled into the box, his tuck back shot beating Stoner only for that man Axten to pop up at the vital moment and clear the ball from the line. Another opportunity as Ming became the meat in a Bognor sandwich, but Dee's free kick from the edge of the area whistled over from 25 yards out.
On came Sol Pinnock as Powell departed. Moments later, fortune scowled as Clunis whipped in a cross from the right; Stoner stood stock still as the ball bounced off the top of his bar. Yet for all their pressure, all their invention, a killer touch was lacking. Time was against the Hamlet. Bognor pulled their wagons into a circle against the final forays and Davy Crockett, sorry axeman Axten, rides around and says it's cool for cats. The time board went up, four minutes stoppages and proof that time is relative. For Dulwich's traveling faithful, they must have passed in the blink of an eye, for the home fans those four minutes must have seemed like centuries. At five to five, the season ended with a single whistle, Dulwich players slumped to the floor as green clad Rocks cavorted around them, yet a curious feeling took over for Hamlet saw themselves in their conquerors and know their time will come again, sooner rather than later.