Less than 12 months previous these two clashed in a late season encounter at the Hill. Then as now Sittingbourne had the taste of the promotion play-offs smacking upon their tongue but so then did the Hamlet. A year down the line from a 1-6 demolition illuminated by the rapid-fire hat trick of striker Charlie Taylor, the Brickies have built a hardy squad, laced with strength and prepared to battle for each point even though the odds may be against. Even today when they came to London without injured strikers Richard Brady, late of this parish, and Tom Bradbrook and with nary enough players to fill every spot on the bench, they pulled the strings for second one, manipulating a disjointed Dulwich like marionettes.
Whilst Gary Abbot bemoaned the decimation of his strike force, his opposite number on the touchline, Craig Edwards, too had his troubles, almost the entire first choice defence annihilated after influential skipper Marc Cumberbatch was spirited away by Staines to join their promotion push from the premier Division. Also tempted away was full back Nathan Simpson, the lure of the king's shilling too tempting to resist as made the move to the massed mercenaries of the Met Police. With Ryan Adams still nursing his wounds after the battle with Walton Casuals, Shayne Mangodza was last man standing in the regular back four! It meant Peter Martin kept hold of the right back slot having replaced Adams in the last two games; Ryan Myers dropped back to partner Mangodza at centre half and there was a shock reappearance at left back of Ricky Dobson.
For the Dulwich fan now is the long dark twilight of the season, that interminable time 'twixt realisation that promotion is but a forlorn, if mathematically possible, dream and that relegation's bony figures can no longer drag them down amongst the dead men. The Brickies' travelling throng have at least promotion aspirations to warm the cockles and when this game became bogged down in itself, too often than was necessary in this humble scribe's opinion, regaled the assembled crowd and most of SE22 with a home-grown version of an old favourite from the Sex Pistols. It filled in for entertainment until the 13th minute when Sittingbourne produced the first real threat of the evening. Colin Richmond crumbled under a challenge a yard outside the Dulwich penalty area. Dulwich packed the wall having conceded an equaliser to Walton Casuals from an identical position. This time the wall stood firm but Marc de Bolla produced a peach of a curler low around the barricade before him and bound for the far bottom corner until Jamie Lunan flung himself full length to tip the ball away at the final second.
Heavenly wraiths of Hamlet past must have wept into their nectar as they gazed down upon this dire performance. The Lunan save counted for naught as Olympian ambrosia stuck in the craw of the gods of Champion Hill with a goal for the visitors just four minutes later. As too often before Dulwich dozed as a corner was pumped in by Richmond. At the near post Nick Reeves was on hand to flick on the delivery and centre-half Rio Alderton powered past porous Pink and Blue resistance to bullet a close range header into the back of the net.
The Brickies built solid foundations in defence, away from their self built home in Kent they have proved redoubtable opposition beaten just once on their travels in the league. The chances were few but more plentiful than for the Hamlet for whom the cornucopia had wealed up. The lively de Bolla ought to have increased the margin of advantage for the 'Bourne on the half-hour mark, sending a steaming strike just wide from 20-yards after new boy in the forward line Ellie Kayembe had teed him yup after knocking down Hicham Akhazzan's cross.
With 34 minutes on the clock Dulwich at last managed to put together a move of intent as Stuart Myall squared the ball to John-Paul Collier, the midfielder, paying makeshift striker, spreading the ball out wide to the overlapping Junior Kaffo. Kaffo powered on before whipping a cross in from the flanks to be met with a skimming header from the unmarked Cedric Ngakam, but his attempt flew frustratingly wide of the back stick.
With Dulwich's stuttering motor coughing at last into action, assistant referee Dele Sotimirin poured a hefty dose of sugar into the tank as he signalled for a penalty against Myers. The defender had been in a race for a through ball with Kayembe when the ball struck him on the arm as it bounced up. Referee Mr O'Brien saw naught but his colleague was in doubt, the flag drawn across his chest as fatally as a noose might tighten around the neck of the condemned man. Lunan had proved himself a most excellent judge of the spot kick earlier in the season but he faced a gunslinger of equal renown and this time the out of town stranger won the gunfight, de Bolla smashing the ball high to Lunan's left as the 'keeper dived low to his right.
Edwards made a switch at the break as Ahoua Steven replaced Collier in the van with Dulwich showed greater attacking intent than they had in the preceding 45 minutes. However the Brickies' seemed content to smother Dulwich attacks, resilient in defence and giving 'keeper Matt Reed all but fleeting opportunities to display his custodial prowess. On 56 minutes the visiting 'keeper was at last called into action as Dulwich midfield puppet master Myall slotted through a peach of a pass for Scott Simpson to canter on to only for Mead to rush from his line and snatch the ball from the toes of his opponent. Ten minutes later and Dulwich skipper Ngakam chanced his arm with a twenty-five yard snapshot but the goal went unthreatened as the effort bounced a foot wide of the far upright. However the Hamlet's most clear-cut chance of the entire evening did not arrive until 13 minutes from time as Simpson escaped the shackles of the Sittingbourne defence, bearing done on Reed's goal but denied as the Brickies' number one made a smart stop low down to his left to preserve his clean sheet.
If anything that chance sparked the visitors back into offensive action and with Richmond charged forward at full pelt, the chance was laid on a plate for Kayembe to mark his mark with a stinging shot that Lunan initially spilled only to clutch again at the second attempt.
With all hands to the pump for a late, too late, charge Dulwich threatened at the death but with Sittingbourne's rearguard determined never to be breached any thoughts of a consolation were futile.