THE CHIPS ARE DOWNED (See Latest News for Saturday Worthing Match Preview)
Chipstead 1 Dulwich Hamlet 4
Tuesday 19th January 2011
Ryman Isthmian League Division One South
The hoarfrost shimmered on the path less trodden to High Road, Chipstead, the grass glistening with frosty diamonds as the temperature atop the chilly steppes beyond the Croydon conurbation pushed the mercury ever closer to zero. But on the pitch the brightest diamonds that sparkled were those that donned the Pink and Blue motley, Dulwich Hamlet awakened like the first buds of spring to give the lie to those who might dismiss playoff pretentions as the fanciful dreams of the addled mind.
Bourne on the back of the weekend bounty, the Hamlet ascended the South Downs in confident mood, though Dame Fortune could not resist throwing a spanner in the works as gargantuan goalkeeper, Stuart Robinson, succumbed to an injury in the pre-match warm-up whilst striking prodigy, Paul McCallum, a prize catch for a swarm of clubs was delayed on route. This meant a rapid change to the starting line-up with James Dunn taking on the custodian's heavy mantle and Nyren Clunis stepping into the breach left by the belated McCallum, leaving Dulwich without a recognised centre forward in the old school style.
Flashman to Hamlet's Tom Brown, feisty Chipstead have been fast been earning a reputation as the division's school bully for their rumbustious football. In defeat to Eastbourne at the weekend they had lost both Jason Goodchild and striker Billy Harding to dismissals, though they were more sinned against than sinning when 'keeper Martin Grant had to leave the fray with an injury that required hospitalisation. Goodchild started but Grant was still absent, ebullient veteran glovesman James Wastell called into action from South Park whilst Harding was one of a number of absentees along with leading scorer, Ray Freeman. All told the Chips made five changes from the side beaten on the South Coast. Adam Broomhead made a return at centre-back to play alongside Louis Hollingsworth while skipper Lee Coburn was sent up front to fill the void left up by Freeman and Harding, no Willis though.
Clunis took left than two minutes to make his mark and add to this term's tally, taking advantage of a Chipstead defence still mentally in the dressing room to put the Hamlet in front. A clumsy challenge wide right led to a free kick, expertly delivered across the face of the six-yard box. Strangers all, the home defence knew not who to mark and Clunis drifted in unattended at the back of the box to meet the ball with a flying volley, larruping the ball smartly past a static Wastell.
The goal set the tone for a half that belonged more to Hamlet than host. Escaping down the left flank, leaving a leaden footed defence panting in his wake, Clunis had the chance to strike once more only to drag his angled shot across the rutted six yard box and wide of the back stick. Junior Kadi and Kevin James both had smart efforts from the edge of the area only to shoot straight at the ample frame of Wastell.
A further blow for the depleted Chips as a knee injury forced the early departure of former Hamlet man, Russell Bedford, clearly struggling with the pace of the Dulwich flank attacks down the left.
Though appeals for a penalty went unheeded after Rob Gradwell was forced to the floor as he led Broomhead in chase for a through ball, it looked as if that single goal would be enough to take Dulwich into the break but 12 minutes from halftime, the Chips struck back with a fine goal as Goodchild put his head to good use, meeting a stunning cross from tight to the corner flag, his powerful downward header bouncing up and over the overstretched arm of Dunn.
The Chips drew strength from the goal and were only prevented from taking the advantage when Dean Carpenter made a brave block, throwing his body in front of a sharp shot from Ronnie Green lurking at the back of the box. Almost a reveille for the Hamlet, Clunis latching on to a pinpoint pass through the heart of midfield but with the goal begging before him, snatching at his shot to biff the ball into the dark heart of the downs.
Past disappointments at the High Road hove into view, but, though experience has made me wise and bitter, it has also made me strong. A momentary lapse as Chips came out on the front foot was soon blown away as the roistering Hamlet drew first blood in the second half. Seven minutes in, the magician's touch from James made it 2-1, an exquisite flick off the heel to finish off Quade Taylor's pull back from the line, giving Wastell not a ghost of a chance.
Still the big custodian showed he is not yet ready for the knackers' yard as he denied Gerry Gonnella what would have been Hamlet's third, diving right to touch the Dulwich midfielder's hooked 25 yard wallop against the woodwork and behind for a corner. However he could do naught to prevent Dulwich, and James, finding the net once more. On the hour mark, a flighted ball into the box was expertly controlled by Gradwell, the big striker showing his strength to hold off a brace of closing defenders before slipping the ball back to James who rifled it low into the far bottom corner out of reach of the diving Wastell.
Within a minute Dulwich had threatened again, Gradwell's deep cross from the left nodded back across goal by Clunis to Gonnella but the ball skied over the crossbar from close range. Thick and fast the chances came. James saw a shot clip off a defender past the upright, Carpenter's header from the resultant corner falling wide of the back stick.
With 18 minutes left Dulwich piled on the misery for their hosts with a fourth goal. Clunis chased a long ball down to the back line, hammering the ball low into the area where Gonnella swept the ball into the back of the net from 12 yards out at the back of the box.
James left the arena to be replaced by Nicholas Ogbanufe; the substitute denied Dulwich's fifth when Wastell made a brave block at his post.
A late flurry of chances for the Chips might have reduced the arrears but Dunn made a flying save to beat out Liam Grier's curling effort through a host of players before getting his body behind a fierce free kick in the dying moments.