Bostik Premier Division: Dulwich Hamlet 1 Hendon 1 (4-3 on penalties)
PUBLISHED: 11:06 09 May 2018
Hendon suffered the most agonising possible end to a great season, losing a promotion playoff final on penalties. On a sweltering afternoon at Dulwich Hamlet's temporary Tooting home, the hosts came out on top in a shoot-out after a 1-1 draw which was eminently watchable throughout, but, thanks to the weather, not quite the spectacle that might have been provided.
James Hammond was unavailable for the match so Luke Tingey came off the bench to take his right-back position, but the rest of the starting team was unchanged.
The replacement substitute was goalkeeper Montel Joseph.
Hendon’s travelling support, which numbered in excess of 500, was outnumbered in a crowd of 3,321, easily the most ever to watch football at the KNK Stadium, the Imperial Fields home of Tooting & Mitcham United.
The first chance, albeit a very difficult one, came to Josh Walker after four minutes, but the Hendon striker could not keep his header from a corner below the crossbar.
The massed fans behind the Hendon goal then had their first moments to cheer as Reise Allasani twice created danger.
His first shot, after 10 minutes, set up by Gavin Tomlin, was well saved by Tom Lovelock, but it would have been a disappointment to the goalkeeper if that effort had beaten him.
In the 14th minute, Lovelock tipped over a header from Nathan Ferguson and, from the resulting corner, Allasani had an effort blocked.
While Ollie Sprague was doing an excellent job isolating and snuffing out danger from Nyren Clunis, Tingey, Arthur Lee and Rian Bray were working extremely hard to cope with Allasani and Tomlin.
It was a very cagey contest, played in the main in superb spirit – no players were cautioned and only a couple were lectured in the 120 minutes, for which the referee also deserves enormous credit – but clear-cut chances at either end were at a premium.
If the Hendon back four, supplemented by Casey Maclaren and Jake Eggleton, stifled Dulwich’s front three, plus Ashley Carew and Nathan Green, then Ibrahim Kargbo, Miachel Chambers, Ferguson, Rickie Hayles and Anthony Acheampong gave none of Zak Joseph, Ashley Nathaniel-George, Walker or Niko Muir any space either.
Then, out of almost nothing, in the 36th minute, Walker finally got the better of his marker and made dangerous yards forward.
He passed to Nathaniel-George, who improved his angle and drove a shot low just inside the left post.
Amadou Tangara seemed not to be at full stretch and thus was unable to reach the ball.
Hendon then enjoyed much their best spell of the game, but needed at least a second, and maybe a third, too, to have control of the outcome.
It was not to be, though Tangara did make a comfortable save to keep out an effort from Joseph as he just got a touch on a low cross at the near post.
Just before the interval, Tanaara did significantly better, when made a save to deny Nathaniel-George a second goal.
Dulwich came out for the second half and instantly applied pressure on the Hendon goal, but the wall of green held firm. As with the first half, there were few clear opportunities, but that changed in the 55th minute.
Allasani had the first effort which Lovelock did well to parry. The first follow-up was blocked on the line, but the second rebound reached Tomlin just before Lovelock could could get there and the ball bobbled over the line.
Two minutes later, the lead should have gone Dulwich’s way.
Tomlin created the initial danger and, for once the Hendon defence didn’t clear the danger.
Clunis has scored more than 100 goals in his Dulwich career, but one team-mate, who shall remain nameless, described him as a serial misser of good chances.
The ball sat up perfectly for Clunis who smashed it too hard, so that it crashed off the underside of the crossbar before being cleared away.
If he taken a little bit off his shot, with Lovelock barely in position, he would surely have become even more of a Hamlet legend.
Hendon’s first opening of the second half came 17 minutes into the period.
It fell to Joseph, who had a shooting opportunity, but it was bloced by a defender before Tangara was asked the question about making a save.
Maclaren had to leave the pitch for running repairs and a new, numberless, shirt, during which time Hendon had to defend a Dulwich set-piece.
Much to home fans’ disappointment, he was then allowed back just in time to defend a free-kick, which Hendon did.
With 13 minutes remaining, Maclaren was at the other end and he fired in a shot which Tangara pushed aside athletically.
Those in line felt the effort was a little off target, but the goalkeeper was right to take no risks.
Two minutes later, the first changes were made, Dulwich sending on Sanchez Ming, for Clunis, and Dipo Akinyemi, for Tomlin.
Hendon withdrew Joseph and replaced him with Sam Murphy, moving Muir into a more forward role and, in the stifling heat, Murphy’s energy levels were a boost to Maclaren and Eggleton.
The tension was now palpable because both teams realised that the next goal – especially in the regulation 90 minutes – would almost certainly decide the match.
As a result, Dulwich had a couple of half-chances, but nothing clear-cut and the final whistle signalled another 30 minutes, with penalties thereafter if the deadlock was broken.
Before the resumption, Hendon made their second change with Dan Uchechi taking over from Walker.
As with Joseph, the two mercurial strikers had been kept quiet by the pink and blue rearguard and a different type of player might have been able to make a difference.
Midway through the first period, Dulwich wasted another great chance.
The original shot from Green didn’t seem to be dangerous, until a deflection caused the ball to loop and swerve in the air giving Lovelock no chance of the making the save.
The ball struck high up on the right post and the rebound fell to Ming.
From a Hendon point of view, he was Ming the Merciful because he smashed his strike halfway towards Morden rather than into the roof of the net.
It would be fair to say that by the time the second half of extra-time kicked off, the weather was clearly the winner.
Two teams noted for their high-tempo, high-energy football style were reduced to little more than half-pace and the penalty shoot-out denouement looked ever more probable.
With five minutes to go, Maclaren made way for Michael Corcoran.
Was this as Corcoran was a more likely penalty taker, or was it simple exhaustion on the skipper’s part?
There were barely two minutes left on the clock when Hendon committed the cardinal sin – the one which had undone Leiston four days earlier – of committing a foul in a central area just outside their penalty area.
Tingey, probably through sheer exhaustion, pushed Allasani, who went down.
It was a clear free-kick and Dulwich fans were ready to celebrate victory there and then as Carew stepped up to take the free-kick.
A six-man defensive wall had two Dulwich interlopers, one of home, Acheampong, gave a clue as to where the kick was going.
He stood to the left of centre of the Hendon wall and, 16 yards behind him, there was Lovelock, who barely had to move as Carew’s free-kick curled over the wall without huge power.
Both hands above his head, Lovelock ensured that there would have to be the drama of, as FIFA and The FA like to call it, kicks from the penalty mark.
This was a toss Lee really wanted to win because if he called the correctly, the shoot-out would be towards the Hendon 500 and not the Dulwich 1500.
The reaction of Hamlet skpper Rickie Hayles told the story; Hendon fans would be 120 yards from Lovelock.
Hendon went first, and Murphy’s strike was powerful enough to beat Tangara’s dive, despite the goalkeeper guessing correctly.
The Dulwich response was a convincing effort from Carew.
Sprague stepped up and seemed to have trouble with loose earth around the penalty spot.
Maybe it upset his concentration, but whatever the reason, Tangara anticipated the placement and was close to the six-yard box edge as he smothered the kick. Green made no mistake and Dulwich had the edge.
That grew to gigantic proportions when Corcoran’s effort was well saved, but the taker was on the ground as Tangara pulled off the save, suggesting that he had slipped over.
Hendon needed a save or miss quickly and Lovelock delivered, catching Chambers’ attempt albeit at the second attempt, having pushed the ball upwards.
Uchechi was Hendon’s fourth taker and he made no mistake, but Hamlet went dormie one when Acheampong made no mistake with Dulwich’s fourth attempt.
Muir had to score to keep the shoot-out alive and he did so with incredible sang froid.
Substitute Akinyemi now had all the pressure.
Score and he is an all-time Dulwich hero; miss and the shoot-out went on.
The strike was good and true and, within seconds, it seemed like 1,500 Dulwich fans were on the pitch celebrating.
The Hendon players, despite their abject misery and exhaustion, still went to the other end from the excited throng to congratulate and thank the Greens fans who had contributed mightily to a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium.
Nine months, 48 League fixtures, 4,360 minutes (plus additional time) and it all ended in the heartbreak of a penalty shoot-out loss. A
s the optimist would say, “Still there’s always next season.” At 5.50 pm on Monday 7 May 2018, that seemed a very long way away.
Hendon: Lovelock, Tingey, Sprague, Lee, Bray, Eggleton, Walker (Uchechi, 91), Maclaren (Corcoran, 115), Z. Joseph (S. Murphy, 79), Muir, Nathaniel-George. Unused subs: Diedhiou, M. Joseph (gk).