Monday 28th December 2020, 1500 Kick Off
Hampton & Richmond Borough FC vs Dulwich Hamlet FC
The Build Up
Well, it’s fair to say this hasn’t been quite the Christmas we expected, but whilst the rest of life is paused, cancelled or diverted, the juggernaut that is elite sport has continued through the winter period. The National League divisions being classified as elite means that they can continue to play as grassroots football stops, but there are (obviously) quite a few differences between the top echelons, and the nonleague ‘elite’. First and foremost, the majority of players have day jobs, meaning that their ability to conform to the football bubbles adopted in the Premier League is negligible. As a result, despite the legislated permission to continue, December saw a raft of cancellations as team after team picked up COVID cases away from their footballing activity. Indeed, on Boxing Day only two fixtures went ahead in the National League South. For the Bank Holiday, that number had increased slightly, with the Beavers vs Dulwich one of three to go ahead.
Hampton themselves had faced a COVID-lay off, and went into Boxing Day against league favourites Dorking on the back of 21 days without a match. A wilful, resilient display saw them overcome Marc White’s side, with a rare goal from Tyrell Miller-Rodney. A goal from Miller-Rodney is widely acknowledged as one of the signs of a forthcoming apocalypse, so perhaps we shouldn’t be looking to 2021 with too much hope… That three points took Gary McCann’s side up to fourth, as the Beavers’ stunning away form has been the bedrock of a charge into the Play Off spots. However, as impressive as six wins out of seven away clearly is, Hampton have been undermined by their home form, picking up only four points from a possible 15. Their visitors today, Dulwich Hamlet, would be hoping to take advantage of that, and continue the run which had seen them lose only once in the league since November 11th.
Gavin Rose’s Hamlet side were 19th in the division when the National League South was cancelled in the Spring, and had suffered an awful run of form post-Christmas. With financial/COVID uncertainty, Rose found it next to impossible to prepare a squad for the new season, and that difficult run continued when football resumed for 2020/21. However during the winter, he has added to his player base – including bringing back Reise Allassani from Coventry City, and that five match unbeaten run through the winter has seen them rise up the table to 13th coming into this match. Formed in 1893, the Hamlet are part of the furniture the non-league game, and are currently at the peak of their historical powers. In 2018, after 90 years in the Isthmian system, the side from South London finished second in their Step Three league, before securing promotion in a penalty shoot-out against Hendon. Gary McCann’s Hendon. Since promotion (and indeed, for a number of years before), Dulwich have been going from strength to strength, with attendances and performances on an almost continual upwards curve. Consistently achieving the highest attendance at Step Two – they averaged 2,194 last season – Hamlet have suffered more than most from playing games behind closed doors.
With Sam Deadfield missing due to an ankle injury, Hampton were forced into a change of shape, and early in the first half it seemed to be paying off, as the hosts had both the first off and on target shots of the match. First, Niko Muir fired high and wide in the 7th minute from the right of the box after he got behind the defence from a Jake Gray through ball. Two minutes later, Portuguese winger Wilson Carvalho drew the first save of the game from Charlie Grainger – after twisting inside Aaron Barnes, Carvalho shot low and hard towards the near post, but former England U18 international Grainger held well.
Five minutes later, Ryan Gondoh and Jake Gray had some nice interplay on the left wing, which resulted in the Aylesbury born midfielder shooting just wide of the far post. At this point, fifteen minutes in, the Beavers were in the ascendancy, with Gray, Gondoh and Carvalho causing problems, however, it wasn’t to last, and by twenty minutes Dulwich Hamlet were starting to enjoy the lions share of possession, despite the best efforts of Sam Cox and Tyrell Miller-Rodney to break up play.
With 19 played Ronnie Vint had the best chance so far, but skied his side footed effort from the edge of the six yard box. Hampton ‘keeper Alan Julian had saved well from someone I couldn’t see, and when the rebound landed at the feet of Deon Moore he unselfishly teed up Vint, but it was the wrong end of the pitch for the Dartford loanee, and with the net beckoning he shot over. It was a rare foot wrong for Vint, who had an otherwise immaculate match.
As the half drew on Reise Allassani started to dictate play more, but was also ably assisted by Michael Timlin and Jordan Higgs in the engine room. The Crystal Palace Academy product moved to Coventry a few seasons ago, but after a succession of knee injuries is now rebuilding his fitness – and form – with the club he left in 2018. On 23 minutes there were some loud shouts for a red card for Christian Smith, as he went in late on Diogo Barbosa, however, the referee opted for a yellow (correctly in my opinion).
Wilson Carvalho drew another stop out of Grainger on 36 minutes when he shot from around 25 yards after great work by Gondoh to win the ball back out wide. Grainger spilled the ball from the shot, but with no one following up had plenty of time to gather at the second attempt. Hampton were applying some pressure, as Donaldson saw an effort blocked, as did Sam Cox. One minute later, Grainger had another two attempts at a save, this time from Niko Muir on the edge of the area, when the ball dropped to him from a Kyron Farrell free kick.
At this point, the game was relatively even, though Dulwich were probably playing the better football, but that all changed on 38 minutes when Dean Inman received a red card. Under pressure from Danny Mills, the centre back attempted to play the ball back to Julian, but got it caught between his feet – as he fell, and Mills seized on the ball, Inman executed what could only be described as a text book tap tackle, and – with the referee adjudging him as last man – was shown the red card. From the resulting free kick, Higgs curled his effort against the foot of the near post, and as the ball rebounded out, Mills was free at the back post to notch his 4th league goal of the campaign.
Danny Mills, who scored over a hundred goals for Whitehawk, added to his tally moments later, as Hampton struggled to adjust to the man difference. When Timlin received the ball in the middle of his own half, he spotted the run of Mills, and sent a slide rule pass through the middle. The lanky striker ran through one on one with Alan Julian. Despite pushing the Dulwich number nine wide, there was nothing more the Hampton ‘keeper could do as Mills slid the ball goalwards, where it narrowly eluded Farrell who was racing back. 2-0 to Dulwich, and the Beavers needed half time.
Half time was blown shortly afterwards, and it had been a tenacious, event-filled 45 minutes. I have to mention the referee, who I think was poor. His call on the red card was probably right (though an argument as to whether Smith was covering), and Smith’s yellow probably fell in the ‘orange’ category, but he had been conned a number of times by some, erm, interesting tumbles from the Hamlet players. All sides are guilty of it, of course, but Barbosa in particular had a habit of going to ground easily, whilst Moore went down as if he’d been shot with a .50 cal under very minimal contact in the second half.
Hampton needed to find a way to exert themselves in the final third, and to reorganise at the back after the break, and Gary McCann made two changes, bringing on David Fisher and Imran Uche. However, as the second half started, Julian was called into action almost immediately, making a great save with his legs on 46 minutes from 21 year old Deon Moore. The visitors were still playing well as the second half started, with Allassani again well involved, routinely dropping deep from his second striker position to start attacks. In one instance, in the 56th minute, the Dulwich defence calmly played their way through the high press, resulting in a great opportunity for Moore which he dragged wide from the right of the area. However, as we approached the area, Dulwich’s high intensity seemed to take a toll, and their players were looking visibly tired.
On 61 minutes, Ryan Gondoh, the November signing from Whyteleafe, shot wide from about 20 yards, as Hampton started to grow in confidence. Then, a minute later, Jake Gray pulled a goal back for the Beavers, and we very much had a game on our hands. Good strength down the right by Niko Muir, followed by neat interplay with Ryan Gondoh resulted in the ball at Jake Gray’s feet around the penalty spot. He saw the space at the far post and calmly passed the ball into the corner, before Muir grabbed the ball and raced to the centre circle.
Five minutes later, and the game seemed to be back in the Beavers’ hands. Good battling by Gray and Muir saw the ball fall into the path of David Fisher, and the young Czech was tripped by Diogo Barbosa, giving Muir the opportunity to draw the game level and bag his 4th league goal of the campaign. He stepped up, but his penalty was poor, and Charlie Grainger easily saved low to his right, as Muir held his head in his hands. Sanchez Ming provided a spot of the Martin Keown’s afterwards, screaming into Muir’s face, like a really top bloke.
The game had certainly picked up in pace, as Barbosa dragged a shot wide, and David Fisher in particular caused problems down Dulwich’s right hand side. The youngster had looked all energy since coming on, and along with Uche (now partnered with Donaldson in a new-look central defensive pairing) was having a great game. The Beavers threw a number of crosses into the box as the game entered the final 20 minutes, but Vint and Quade Taylor at the back held firm.
On 74 minutes, Muir fizzed a shot wide of the post from 20 yards, then on 79 minutes, what could have been the crucial moment of the match. As the ball ricocheted in the Dulwich area it landed at the feet of Fisher. He stabbed it goalwards, where it clearly hit the arm of Vint diving in. It looked unintentional, but thems not the rules anymore, and right in front of the ref, he bafflingly waved play on. It should have been a second penalty for the Beavers, and at that point, you felt it was Dulwich’s game.
They could even have extended their lead, as Sam Cox made an 88th minute goalline clearance from a brilliant chance for Deon Moore on the half volley. As the game entered extra time, the Beavers threw everything at Hamlet, including Alan Julian up for two corners, but just couldn’t forge that key chance they needed. As yet another cross was repelled, the referee blew for full time, and Dulwich had taken the three points.
The Wash Up
Another frustrating day at the Chris Sweet Beveree Stadium for Hampton & Richmond Borough, and this one perhaps more than most, as they could (and on the basis of the last 45, perhaps should) have taken at least a point from this match. Some iffy refereeing calls, and some solid defending from Dulwich, prevented that, but the truth is the damage was done in the middle third of the match. A poor fifteen minutes prior to half time gave Dulwich the foothold they needed, and they seized it with both hands. Gavin Rose admitted post match that he wasn’t sure his side would survive the second half onslaught at times, but they did, and it’s a big three points which takes them up to 10th in the table (Hampton drop to 5th following Hungerford’s win at Bath).
For the Beavers, there were some really positive performances, particularly in the second half. As ever, Alan Julian made some big stops, whilst Sam Cox gave everything in the middle of the park. Jake Gray had a good second half, and took his goal well, whilst David Fisher was an absolute nuisance down the right. A word for Imran Uche and Ruaridh Donaldson as well, neither of whom put a foot wrong when deployed at centre back for the second half. It was Tyrell Miller-Rodney, though, who really set the tone for the second half improvement, driving from the base of midfield, and being willing to get on the ball in any and all positions of the pitch.
The visitors also had a number of impressive performers on the day, and (certainly in the first half) Reise Allassani was a class act. He visibly tired as the match wore on, but that is only to be expected given his recent return for a long lay off. Danny Mills will take top billing as the match winner, and was a tireless runner in the final third, whilst both Timlin and Higgs were excellent in central midfield.
The man of the match though, for me, is Ronnie Vint. On his second visit to the Beveree this season, he was once again rock solid, having secured a clean sheet for Dartford earlier in the season. Imperious in the air, and indomitable on the ground, Steve King must have some fantastic centre backs at his disposal if he can let Vint out on loan.