THIS AFTERNOON'S PREVIEW - MERSTHAM (AWAY) KO 3.00 PM
As the first candles of the menorah are lit in celebration of Hanukkah, Dulwich Hamlet embark on an arduous trek through dangerous territory towards their own promised land, not one of milk and honey but Tooting and Aveley. But now ahead of them lie trials and tribulations against sides that harbour ambitions of reaching the promised Premier themselves. Croydon Athletic, seemingly burdened by the guilt of the gelt, as they struggle to justify pundits' favouritism to claim the title. Impecunious Folkestone Invicta, defying the odds and the taxman, to battle towards promotion, Baron Hardup of our Christmas pantomime. And we have a our heroine, Snow White Corinthian-Casuals; Wayne Finnie, Yousef Metwali and their ilk happy to run out for the amateurs despite a pay-packet continuing honour alone.
First however Dulwich must clash swords with Merstham who have slipped away from a challenging position after some disappointing results of recent weeks to currently sit in 8th spot, three points ahead of the Hamlet having played a single game less. However this masks the fact that, like Dulwich, the Moatsiders have had to undergo major reconstruction works after long-serving manager Mick Sullivan upped sticks to Leatherhead, a number of key players leaving in his wake. So it must be with a hefty dollop of Schadenfreude that Merstham fans cast their eyes towards the lower reaches of the table where their former boss and his "new" charges currently languish. In Sullivan's stead came Graeme Banyard, charged first of all with sourcing new players to supplement those remaining true to the cause, including garrulous goalkeeper Ian Chatfield and loyal servant, former club captain Craig Vernon. Experience arrived in the formidable shape of powerhouse midfielder Wes Goggin, last of the K's, and tricky winger Craig Carley, picked up from the Police, already scorer of 7 goals in just five games, though veteran midfielder John Hamsher parted company with the club recently.
Added to this proved talent, Banyard was also successful in picking up the young talent from the Combined Counties whilst promoting through the ranks. However one of their number, Jermaine McGlashan, faces a race against time to be fit after an ankle injury forced him out of last Saturday's draw at resurgent Eastbourne Town. The Merstham boss will also be able to call upon striker Carl Gibbs, who was absent, and defender James Hancock, suspended then, will return. However, though goalie Chatfield can walk after a training ground knee accident, he is not fit enough return. Mark Rouse will deputise having has performed admirably in his stead, according to Banyard.
It seems like a different era when the two clubs last met at Moatside, a glorious August Bank Holiday when a pitch like a billiard table allowed Dulwich and one John-Paul Collier in particular to take their hosts to the cleaners. Apt perhaps! J-P scored a belter. Despite an equaliser from the evergreen Kevin Lock, surprisingly surplus to requirements in the summer, Dulwich regained the lead early in the second half through a rare, and brave, Daryl Plummer header, the game neatly tied up with late goals from Laurent Hamici and Scott Simpson.
A four-warning of things to come? Would that be too much to hope for? Dulwich boss Gavin Rose is fighting mood now after back-to-back wins sending out strong signals that the Hamlet are no longer in this division to make up the numbers. Despite recent paper talk linking Dulwich Hamlet with the likes of Paul Scott, ex Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe, Whyteleafe, Dulwich inter alia, and Karl Beckford, recently shown the door by Kingstonian, Rose will be remaining loyal to the lads who have reignited the season after fans' fire had been dampened by that dreadful run without victory. Now the goals flow like a fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here's to some more vintage football this Saturday from 3.00 pm at the Moatside, Merstham.