With the wind in their sails, like pirates in the pre-season ocean, Dulwich went in to the game on the back of three consecutive victories, disposing of Redhill, Beckenham and Farnborough so far this summer. Indeed, the first encounter to be held at Champion Hill for this season, was believed by many to be the Hamlet's first genuine test, Welling United coming from the Holy Lands of Blue Square and so promised ot be robust opposition.
Dulwich boasted a freshened squad for the occasion, Grenada International Craig Rocastle joining the midfield ranks – albeit only temporarily, while he gets fit for higher levels and covers for several Hamlet injuries – along with Alim Sesay, while Jamie Cheeseman finally returned from AFC Wimbledon to take his place on the bench. Recent additions Ryan James and Chester Uriekpan retained their places in the Starting 11, while Kalvin Morath-Gibbs replaced the injured Jake Daniel at right back.
Both sides started brightly though, Junior Kadi flexing his creative genius to probe into the Welling back line, linking up with Alex Tiesse to alarm United early on, while Welling nearly scored immediately, a cheeky ball over Morath-Gibbs's head allowed a striker to dart in behind the young full back, only for the burly front man to lose his footing and scuff his shot harmlessly towards the side netting. Minutes later a winsome free kick was launched at Tim Roberts' goal, which looped fractionally over the bar. The free kick however, seemed to taunt, dare, challenge Dulwich to produce something better; and they almost did. The inventive Kadi still oozing his undeniable class, clipped a tenacious free kick towards the top corner of the Welling goal, only for Charlie Mitten's Mittens to scramble the ball off the goal line for a corner. Rocastle stepped up to swing in a resplendent ball, only for the tyro Osa Obamwonyi to nod just wide.
Such promising play was unfortunately greeted with a Welling goal moments later however, a close range strike from inside the penalty box, sent the Wings soaring in to the lead.
A lead though, that would not last for long. Rocastle dictating the field like an emphatic tyrant, hacked in a delightful ball of masterful accuracy, that sliced through the Welling centre backs, forcing Mitten to come rushing from his line, only for James to canter ahead of his markers and bundle the ball over the floundering keeper.
And they didn't stop there. Like a shark, Tiesse had caught the smell of blood in the Wings backline, his relentless chasing prompted a slip from the Welling full back, a chink in the armour on which the Ivorian gratefully capitalised on. Slipping beyond a couple of desperate challenges, he calmly slipped the ball across the 6 yard box for the galloping Dominic Weston to tuck home.
Seconds after, the Hamlet were at it again, and probably should've done better with the chance, Ryan James rampaging through on goal, only for his low drive to be clambered away by the over-worked Mitten. Kadi and Tiesse did there best to take advantage of the situation, but the custodian regained his position and smothered the ball.
One player gracing the pitch that afternoon was Anthony Finn, the envy of most Non-League sides, due to his reputation as a frighteningly fast winger, capable of bringing even the best of defences to its knees. Therefore, it would seem most unlikely, even impossible that such a player could produce such an astounding miss.
A direct ball catapulted from the back disturbingly cut the Dulwich dfence in to two, a ball that was so perfectly suited for the raw pace of Finn, who gleefully brought it down with the deftest of touches. Leaving the Dulwich rearguard for dead, he rounded Roberts with ghost-like ability, but with the goal at his mercy, the former AFC Wimbledon winger blasted the ball at the post.
Two more easy Welling chances followed, a scuffed shot within the penalty area, that could so easily have replicated the first goal of the afternoon and an unmarked header that was blazed over the bar, meant that both sides were easily unlockable – the most potent would succeed.
Weston, who was enjoying the most vibrant of performances, nearly retaliated with style for Dulwich. He and Tiesse combined neatly, until the former struck a shot, that was agonisingly deflected, by a last ditch Welling challenge. Minutes after, another sweet Rocastle corner picked out James, who's header again went wide.
Intermission was called by the sour sting of the referee's whistle and the sides took their leave.
After Welling hit the bar early on in the second half, Rose introduced Gonnella for Kadi and the returning Cheeseman for Weston, in an attempt to rejuvenate his side.
Which did in fact work, in the sense that Dulwich tightened up at the back and the game fizzled in to nothingness.
Until the 62nd minute.
Tiesse, a pure belligerence for Welling for the entire game, bullied his way forward, shrugging off challenges from the lethargic defenders, before gently rolling his shot into the far corner of the net, beyond the despairing Mitten.
Back Welling went again, striking the bar once more – only to rattle the Dulwich cage for yet another assault on their defences. James's industry paid off, some neat interchanges between the other strikers slipped him in once more, only for his clipped strike to be placed right in to the heart of Mitten.
The summer months and their relaxed atmosphere began to sink in to the game, the last minutes fizzing out in to neat moves that came to nothing. Plumain just missing a Morath-Gibbs cross and the re-introduction of Kadi for James were the only highlights left in a game that showcased the dulcet attacking abilities of the Rose Regime.
Team: Tim Roberts; Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, Nic Plumain, Osa Obamwonyi, Chester Uyiekpan (Jay Roberts); Junior Kadi (Gerry Gonnella), Craig Rocastle, Alim Sesay; Dominic Weston (Jamie Cheeseman), Ryan James (Junior Kadi), Alex Tiesse (Dan Akpoveta)
© Richard Caldecott