It’s never dull in Dulwich. Even on a grey, biting cold South London night, 1404 paying punters turned Champion Hill into a noisy, excitable sporting arena. The self-proclaimed Rabble – Hamlet’s core behind-the-goal crew – were in full voice behind Lee Worgan’s goal, and all was set for a close and exciting contest.
The teams did not disappoint. Although there were moments when the Sports needed to play their possession football and take the pace out of Hamlet’s game, it was still a night when forwards foraged, wingers ran their socks off, and defenders made their share of last-ditch challenges or clearances into the night sky.
Opening exchanges saw the Sports pinging their passes and keeping good possession, while Hamlet’s approach was more direct. The home side almost drew first blood on 8 minutes, when Giovanni McGregor’s curling free-kick, from 25 yards, drew an excellent save from Worgan, arching across to his left.
In response Greg Luer – who was to enjoy a superb night on the left of Borough’s attack – finessed himself clear and pulled the ball back for Jaden Perez, whose firm strike was saved by on-loan Charlton keeper Nathan Harness.
In a combative but never ill-tempered game, admirably controlled by referee Alex Blake, the teams were looking well-matched. For a spell neither defence was threatened – Steve James and Trent Mahorn again forging a confident centre-back pairing – until mid-way through the half, when James Hammond cannily sprung the Dulwich back line to set Charley Kendall free, but Harness smothered the striker’s angled shot.
Half an hour, then, and no goals – but this lively contest, with pacey players all over the field, really did not feel like a goalless draw. Worgan, outside his area, was beaten in a chase for a long ball by Jordan Green, who managed to set up a shot by Chike Kandi - but a frantic scramble saw the ball cleared off the Borough goal-line by James.
That was to be Hamlet’s last real attempt of the half, as Borough wrestled back control. Joel Rollinson – relishing the freedom of a more attacking role, now that the impressive Luke Nippard has the right-back slot – raced forward and played in Charlie Walker, but the Borough skipper shot straight at the goalkeeper. And within a couple of minutes it was Billy-Whizz Rollinson once again who exposed the Dulwich left flank, curling in a lovely cross which Luer headed wide.
Words had clearly been exchanged in the home dressing room, for the hosts opened the second half with a more instant and expansive long-ball approach. But they were confounded in 51 minutes by a smart Borough goal. Walker worked himself space 25 yards out and struck a wicked swerver that took Harness by surprised. Kendall, the very last opponent whom a fumbling keeper wants to see following up, powered in and bundled the loose ball into the net for 1-0.
Now, if visitors to Champion Hill are going to snatch a 1-0 lead, they should really do it after 81 minutes and not 51. The Rabble raised the volume several notches, and their heroes on the pitch raised the tempo. Manager Gavin Rose now introduced extra fire-power off the bench, including Ibra Sekajja, whose explosive pace had turned their previous game into victory over Concord Rangers.
The Sports were not fazed, though. Another powerful run by Hammond set Rollinson free, but the winger’s low shot was saved at the foot of the near post. Then Walker twice got in behind a panicky Hamlet back line, but his efforts were cleared.
Into the final fifteen minutes, Hamlet snatched their equaliser – spectacular but a wee bit fortunate. A long Borough kick-out was popped back through the heart of their defence by Danny Mills, and that man Sekajja pounded through and just beat the advancing Worgan to the ball. A flailing Trent Mahorn tried desperately to clear off the goalline, but perhaps that equaliser, as Prince Hamlet would say, lay in their stars.
Danny Bloor threw on Jake Elliott and Dom Hutchinson, reshaping the team and re-energising the efforts. Walker managed another low cross which Harness just clutched, with Kendall poised to restore the lead. And a Borough corner was only half-cleared to the outstanding Jack Currie, who has arguably the sweetest left foot in National South – but this clearance fell to Jack’s right foot, and disappeared into the gloom behind the terraces.
No reason to be gloomy, and this Hamlet drama was no Shakespearean tragedy. Borough had given every ounce, played really well, and the single point was the least they deserved.