Dulwich Hamlet bring Eastbourne Borough back to earth

Back to earth with a bump. After last Saturday’s thrilling home victory over league leaders Dartford, Eastbourne Borough slipped to a 2-1 away defeat – their first on the road this season – at Dulwich Hamlet.

Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 3:12 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 3:14 pm
Eastbourne Borough couldn't repeat their Dartford heroics at Dulwich Hamlet - but did play well in a 2-1 defeat / Picture: Lydia Redman

In any game, the final scoreline does not lie, and the record will show that Dulwich took all three points. But their 2-1 victory disguises the truth of a game dominated by Borough, but nicked from them by a Hamlet smash-and-grab operation.

In a sense, the whole match was over in the first fifteen minutes. By that point, Eastbourne could literally have scored five goals, but Hamlet had scored two.

The Sports had produced a phenomenal opening blitz, denied only by home goalkeeper Charlie Grainger, whose four outstanding saves – plus a couple more near-miss efforts – had kept the Dulwich goal intact. And as the men in red powered eagerly forward, an early goal seemed inevitable.

In the second minute James Ferry and Dean Cox set Charley Kendall away on the left, but his ball into the box was cleared for a corner. Then a six-man move finished with Cox’s volley, curling goalwards but brilliantly clawed away from the very top corner by Grainger.

Next, Greg Luer created his own chance with an incisive run down the right, but floated his goal attempt just too long. Then Cox seized on a midfield turnover to play in Kendall with an inch-perfect through ball, but the keeper advanced to narrow the angle and bravely saved his fierce shot.

Within a minute, Grainger had conjured another remarkable save – once again from Cox, who fizzed a torpedo of a shot from Chris Whelpdale’s knockdown, but was denied at the foot of the left post. Seconds later Cox – who had achieved more in ten minutes than some players manage in ninety – tried another 20-yard strike, but it swerved past the far post.

To this point, Franco Ravizzoli had still not touched the ball. But on 10 minutes Hamlet won a rather soft free-kick, wide on their right touchline. It was played up the line and then set up for Ruben Sammut's low shot, pushed out by Ravizzoli but drilled intothe net by Danny Mills, a man who has scored against Borough for four different opposing clubs.

Both shaken and stirred, the Sports resumed their assaults on the home goal. An enterprising Kai Innocent overlapped on the left and swung in a long effort that was dipping into the top corner until Grainger stretched to touch it out for a corner.

But barely a minute later, Hamlet’s second attack of the night brought their second goal. A corner on the left was played in short to McGregor, whose shot was deflected into goal by Reise Allassani, just four yards out and looking suspiciously offside. A VAR review would have ruled the goal out for a leading elbow or a stretched toecap, but this is non-league, where instant decisions are all that we have….

After Whelpdale’s protestations had earned him a yellow card, the Sports set about wresting back a contest in which they might have been four goals up but now found themselves two goals down. For the rest of the first half, play was more balanced, if scrappier. Ravizzoli had just one save to make before half-time, pouncing at the feet of Mills - in Hamlet's only other half-chance of the night - but otherwise he touched the ball only from a couple of back-passes.

In front of their keeper, James and Dickenson were in command, and the Sports were largely untroubled by what the home commentator described – on Hamlet’s excellent stream – as the “best football that Dulwich have played since their promotion three seasons ago”. Vaughan and Innocent were always looking to support the attack, and from one looping Vaughan cross James Hammond’s header was only just too high.

Meanwhile Whelpdale had moved up through the gears, shredding the home defence to draw yet another breathtaking save from Grainger, and then firing two successive angled shots wide.

Still a two-goal deficit, then, as Borough instantly began the second half with three corners in three minutes. From the first, James Hammond scorched in a shot that finally had Grainger beaten – only for defender Barnes to hack it off the goal-line. And the second and third flag-kicks were just as doggedly defended.

It set the pattern for a frustrating second half. Kendall got in behind the defence and whipped a low centre for Whelpdale, but his shot was blocked and cleared.

As Borough raised the pressure, Ruben Sammut was booked for a ruthless challenge on Ferry on the edge of the box, and Dulwich were clearly minded to defend their lead at all costs. Within five minutes Sammut had plunged in with another cautionable foul, but he escaped a second yellow – and was substituted shortly afterwards by manager Gavin Rose.

Meanwhile the Borough-versus-Grainger contest was continuing. Another fluent move saw Vaughan float in the perfect cross, met by the impressive Luer with a sublime twisting header – but the Dulwich keeper conjured another incredible arching save to touch the goalbound effort over the crossbar.

Off the bench, Charlie Walker and Joel Rollinson pepped things up, and the Borough direction of travel was always forward and front-foot. Although understandably, Eastbourne’s intensity dipped a little, they still held the upper hand as the minutes slipped away. Tiring legs and opposition spoiling fouls apart, they plugged away admirably, while Dulwich offered little. Franco managed to touch the ball just five times in the entire second half, none of them from threatening situations.

But we were deep into stoppage time before the Dulwich goal was finally breached, James Hammond forcing the ball in from a goalmouth scrummage. A strange night, and a result decided not in the final minute but in those first frantic minutes, by a goalkeeper playing the game of his life.

Borough: Ravizzoli; Vaughan, James, Dickenson, Innocent; Cox (Walker 64), Ferry capt, Hammond, Luer; Whelpdale (Blackmore 89), Kendall (Rollison 73).

Borough MoM: Chris Whelpdale