The eyes of the world are largely elsewhere this afternoon. International matches and the first round proper if the FA Cup mean that even the tiny amount of coverage that a match in Division One South of the Ryman League might attract pales away to nothing. Yet this is, in its own way, an intriguing match. The top of this division is tight, and Dulwich sit at its head. The home side, meanwhile, are some way adrift in seventh place in the table, ten points behind Dulwich, but a cursory glance at the league table only tells part of the story. Worthing have either three or four games in hand on every team above them, so a win today for them might even throw them back into the title race, in the long run.
This significance hasn’t been lost in the match-going public and, despite the slate grey sky – their is more than a hint of winter in the air today – and the normal Saturday afternoon distractions, there is a season-high crowd of 326 people here today. Worthing are in red – a cookie-cutter effort from Nike with a white chevron on the chest – today, and this means that we don’t get the benefit if seeing Dulwich’s unique pink and blue shirts. There is a story behind their change kit, though. If the white shirts and black shorts that they are wearing look familiar, there is good reason for this. This kit is an old Manchester United kit, donated to the club by local(ish) boy Rio Ferdinand.
For the opening ten or fifteen minutes, it feels as if these shirts may be imbued with something of the spirit of the Premier League giants. Dulwich sprint from the traps as if this is a job that they want completed as quickly as possible. They are slick, fluid and purposeful, while Worthing look apprehensive and a little clumsy. They attack at will, force a few corner kicks and it looks as if this afternoon should be a comfortable one for them. There are already signs, though, of the potential stickiness ahead. Even during this assertive opening, Dulwich are largely limited to half-chances and the home defence, which is physically commanding if a little unsophisticated, deals reasonably comfortably with their attempts to pierce them by direct means. Indeed, Dulwich look at their most threatening when trying to play the ball through the him defence and on a couple of occasions only a stray, stuck out leg prevents the ball from being worked through and into a genuinely dangerous position.
After twenty-five minutes, however, the breakthrough comes at the other end of the pitch with a break that is as swift and effective as it is surprising. Tom Lawley’s shot is blocked by the Dulwich goalkeeper James Tedder and the ball is kept in play and put back into the danger area. Tedder has to save a second time, again from Lawley, and it requires a third attempt, this time from Ryan McBride, to finally force the ball over the line and give Worthing the lead. It is a goal that seems to throw a spanner into the Dulwich game plan. They now look edgier and less confident and the home defence deals comfortably with their great throughout the remainder of the half.
The second half sees Dulwich start with the same level of vigour with which they started the first, but today doesn’t have the feel of being their day – or at least it hasn’t since Worthing breached their defence in the first half. This isn’t to say that they don’t create chances. Charles Ofusuhene has a shot blocked by the Worthing goalkeeper Alan Mansfield and, with probably the clearest chance of the match, mid-way through the half Ofusuhene manages to work himself a little space on the right hand side, only to see his shot well saved by Mansfield. Dulwich continue to huff and puff, but Worthing are defensively well-disciplined and as time passes Dulwich’s well of ideas starts to run dry. By stoppage time, they are lofting the ball towards the Worthing penalty area more in hope than expectation, and what should perhaps be a late onslaught is comfortably withstood by the home defence.
Those connected to Dulwich Hamlet will be looking at the league table with the continuing belief that this could be the year which sees the club arrest several years of relative torpor with promotion. While having points in the proverbial bag has an obvious, demonstrable value, though, Worthing supporters will also be looking forward to the Christmas rush of fixtures with considerable optimism. Their defensive success in shutting out the league leaders so effectively and their capability of competing with the league leaders has certainly now been demonstrated and the next challenge for the club is to sustain the sort of resilience that it demonstrated against a team that is expected to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. There is a long way yet to go in this Ryman League Division One South season, but Worthing will feel as if they have as good a chance as anybody of still being in the reckoning come the end of the season.
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