ROCKS REVIEW: Rocks 1 Dulwich Hamlet 0 - Rocks win promotion

The pain of two relegations and the numerous other traumas that went with them was blown away as a crowd of more than 2,000 watched the Rocks win promotion from Ryman one south amid amazing scenes at Nyewood Lane.

The play-off final might have had only a fraction of the drama seen during the semi-final penalty shootout win over Godalming, but it had twice the emotion as Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick’s battling team gained the lead then held on to it for all their worth to secure promotion.

A header by Stuart Axten 17 minutes into the game was enough to defeat a Dulwich side who didn’t put the Rocks under the sort of the pressure the home fans expected in the second half.

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But it took a penalty save from Craig Stoner - his second in six days after his heroics against Godalming - to keep the Rocks ahead and a superb performance from the back four to deny Dulwich.

After they comfortably rode out three minutes of injury time, the final whistle sparked fabulous scenes as hundreds of fans poured on to the pitch to mob their heroes and watch them presented with winners’ medals and a play-off trophy.

Even Jason Prior - who finished the season as the Rocks’ top scorer despite leaving for AFC Wimbledon in January - was invited down from the stand to take his place among the celebrations.

His presence was telling - he was a reminder that since the start of the season, when the Rocks set out to put behind them the promotion near-miss heartache of a year ago, six or seven key players had left or retired. Others picked up injuries and suspensions at the worst times - but none of that, in the final reckoning, prevented the Rocks from reaching their goal.

Now they can start to think about life back where many think they belong - in the Ryman premier. That will bring its own challenges, but for now, players, management and fans just want to enjoy the moment and savour the success of season 2011-12.

The final itself was no classic - fast-paced at times and with Dulwich in possession for much of the time, but neither keeper could claim it to have been anything like their busiest afternoon of the season.

The Rocks made a fairly lively start but the first chance of the afternoon fell to Dulwich. Nyren Clunis, who was to carry their main threat throughout, found space on the byline to square inside the box to Peter Adenyiy, whose low curling shot was grabbed by Stoner at the second attempt.

The home side replied with a long-range effort from Kane Wills that keeper Phil Wilson did well to tip away.

The Rocks led in the 17th minute when another excellent Wilson save, from an Ashley Robinson rocket, led to a Ben Johnson corner which Axten rose to nod in.

Dulwich enjoyed a good spell of pressure after the goal and Clunis and Kevin James both went close to forcing an equaliser.

The visitors had the better of the remainder of the second but the Rocks defended resolutely to maintain the lead at the interval.

Dulwich continued to press at the start of the second half and Clunis fired just over when a corner was cleared to him 20 yards out.

Terry Dodd was close to giving the Rocks a two-goal advantage when he took a James Crane pass in his stride and forced keeper Phil Wilson into a superb block at his near post.

Dulwich looked set to level when they were awarded a penalty on the hour when Dan Beck blocked an Omarr Lawson shot with his arm.

It hit him from very close range and it looked a harsh decision, but he was booked - but then the majority of the crowd roared their approval when Stoner guessed right and dived to his right to save sub Sanchez Ming’s penalty.

Steve Harper might have made it 2-0 with 20 minutes left but lost his cool when clear in the box after a Beck set-up and lobbed well over.

For all their pressure, Dulwich didn’t create anything clear-cut and the final ten minutes weren’t as frantic as it might have been as the Rocks held on to claim their place in the Ryman premier - and get the party started.

Joint bosses Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick were delighted with the outcome of a long, challenging season.

Howell said: “I’m relieved. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I didn’t dare to think what might be because of what happened last year.

“I’m so pleased for everyone involved, from players to fans, and all the club helpers and everyone who keeps this club going. It’s been a rollercoaster two years.”

Killpartrick said: “This is the most wonderful club in the non-league. To get 2,000 fans in is fantastic - we did it for them. Dulwich Hamlet are a good team - in fact the whole top eight in this division have been excellent.

“We were ready for the play-offs this year. We’re psychologically strong. We knew we were ready for it.”

ROCKS: Stoner, Crane, Wollers, Harper, Axten, Andrews, Beck, Wills, Robinson, Dodd, Johnson, Subs: Cobbs, Whyte, Marzetti, Simmonds, Boyle.

DULWICH: Wilson, Morath-Gibbs, Deen, Adenyiyi, Duku, Gonclaves, Clunis, Carpenter, Powell, James, Lawson. Subs: Sawyer, Snelling, S Pinnock, E Pinnock, Ming.

Ref: A Da Costa (Cambridge)


* Get all the reaction to the win and a picture special on the game - and the season as a whole - in the Observer on Thursday.