Dulwich Hamlet 3 v 3 East Thurrock United
HAVING conceded two penalties and an own goal, first impressions might be that East Thurrock pressed the self destruct button at Champion Hill, and certainly John Coventry’s side travelled home wondering what might have been.
But prior to this clash, played out in front of another impressive home crowd of 953, Rocks would probably have settled for a draw as the race for the Ryman Premier play-off zone continues to ebb and flow and so the result should be judged in context on a day when most of the other contenders also drew.
The visitors made a great start when, with just three minutes on the clock, Mitchell Gilbey chased down a ball through the middle, shrugged off a defender and sidestepped keeper Phil Wilson before staying calm to slot the ball past defenders on the line.
Rocks were good value for the lead and might have extended it when Ellis Brown broke free on the right but his attempted chip over the advancing Wilson drifted wide of the goal.
The visitors were on top but were rocked by a freak equaliser on 18 minutes when they spurned the chance to clear a bouncing ball which was played forward and Ben Wood’s attempted clearance saw the ball fly towards his own goal and in off the upright.
It took East Thurrock just a minute to restore the lead, Brown delivering the ball into the path of Gilbey who again showed great composure to beat Wilson.
Dulwich were well in the game at this point though and they mounted a sustained period of pressure on the visiting defence with Albert Jarrett firing a free kick just over before another error by the normally composed Wood allowed Nyren Clunis the chance of a shot at goal but he struck the back of his teammate Kevin James and Wood’s blushes were spared.
Next it was referee Paul Forrester who should have been blushing when he missed a blatant handball from Hamlet’s hugely influential Ashley Carew but thankfully for the official, the attack that the illegal intervention set up ended with a save from Hughes to deny Clunis what would have been a highly controversial goal.
It was not the first time that Mr Forrester’s lack of ability to spot a handball would cause problems, nor for Carew, who picked up a caution for hauling down Nicky Symons just before the break, to get lucky.
The half came to a close with moments of drama at both ends. First Sam Higgins appeared to handle as he stooped to head a corner clear but Mr Forrester waved away appeals to at least show consistency! Moments later, at the other end, Wilson heaved a sigh of relief when a shot from Symons looped over, rather than under his bar.
The second half saw Dulwich step up a gear but Rocks were weathering their storm with some comfort until the hour point when Carew was adjudged to have been upended by Hughes, a controversial decision that perhaps summed up Mr Forrester’s less than perfect day at the office. Carew wasn’t in the least bit worried and smashed the gift spot kick past Hughes.
Carew’s good luck didn’t stop there, soon after he brought down Symons and it seemed inevitable he would pick up a second yellow, but Mr Forrester showed leniency.
If Carew was counting his blessings, Rocks’ talisman striker Sam Higgins, who was having a quiet afternoon, had cause to do so after he clashed with Wilson who was left with a badly bloodied and possibly broken nose. The keeper required ten minutes of treatment before the game restarted with a drop ball, Mr Forrester having adjudged no offence to have taken place – much to chagrin of several Dulwich players, who were to carry their bad feeling into a spat at the end of the match.
With the clock ticking down towards the lengthy spell of added time it seemed the game had turned Dulwich’s way when Mr Forrester missed another blatant handball as the ball was played into the East Thurrock box where Wood clattered into the back of Benjamin to concede the game’s second spot kick. The penalty decision was correct this time, but no amount of argument will convince Rocks feeling of being hard done to by the earlier injustice, not helped by the fact that Carew, who comfortably converted his second spot kick, probably shouldn’t even have been on the pitch.
As the game entered ten minutes of added time Rocks introduced David Bryant and Kye Ruel for Gilbey and Connor Witherspoon and then Parmenter for Brown.
It was the latter change that was to prove most significant as Parmenter found himself in the ideal position to sidefoot an inch perfect equaliser past Wilson, who was clearly impaired by his earlier battering.
Both sides had half chances as the clock ticked through the final five minutes but a draw, on balance, was probably a fair result though Rocks might feel with justification that if any side did deserve a win it was them.
Their frustration and Dulwich’s discontent over the injury to Wilson spilled over into a minor fracas after the final whistle in which Benjamin got booked, but it was largely handbags and insults tempered by the mutual respect between managers Gavin Rose and Coventry who embraced and took the heat out of the situation.