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Angels v Dulwich Hamlet : 18.03.17. : Match Preview by Simon Piper

1 year ago By Jim Rowe

Angels and Hamlet lock horns again

Tonbridge will be crossing fingers the dreaded curse of the Manager of the Month award has been completely exorcised by Saturday evening.

Since the announcement Steve McKimm had earned February’s Isthmian honour, the team have only picked up one point from a possible nine and suffered calamities affecting key players – mainly injuries.

However, following a midweek victory that booked a place in a league cup final for the first time in decades, there are hopes the jinx has lifted. But it is in the Ryman Premier the West Kent side really need the right kind of magic and return to winning ways.
The Angels next face a crucial clash against Dulwich Hamlet at the weekend, just a few days after a pairing in the Isthmian cup semi-finals. On Tuesday the tussle in the Alan Turvey Trophy sponsored by Robert Dyas finished in a 3-1 success for the Longmead men.

It is the promotion campaign that is the priority though and a top-five berth by the end of next month is the target for the two clubs. That provides passage to the play-offs and last year the Angels and Hamlet achieved that goal, but both lost to East Thurrock United.

When the curtain was raised on the opening day of the current season, the duo would have been among the favourites for a similar performance, although audiences in West Kent and South London wish for a happier ending in 2017. Last May, hopes were dashed near the Thames Estuary and Essex men toasted the arrival of National South football.

Unfortunately, this term, it is beginning to look like success in the capital could mean disappointment in the country and vice versa. The top three - in the case of Havant & Waterlooville and Needham Market, thanks partly to good fortune at Longmead - seem to have play-off places sewn-up.

The Hampshire side are determined to earn automatic promotion, at the first attempt after relegation a year ago, and likely to be engaged in a duel with Bognor for the leadership over the next six weeks.

If the Marketmen remain ensconced in third, that leaves the rest fighting for fourth or fifth.

Tonbridge need to conjure up sparkling form between now and the end of April, on a par with the results that earned the monthly manager award (one defeat in 13 games and a run of eight unbeaten).

The Angels were also just minutes away from beating Havant, until a late leveller from the guests, and, a few days later, raced into a comfortable lead against Needham Market until chaos ensued.

The latter concluded 3-4, the cause not helped by the loss of goalkeeper Anthony Di Bernardo plus marching orders for Ugo Udoji. The scorer of the first goal against the Suffolk visitors was due to serve a suspension but the ban has been lifted following an appeal. The defender’s availability provides a much-needed boost, although it is unlikely that can make good the full-damage inflicted by the red card during an astonishing afternoon two weeks ago.

Steve McKimm could perhaps be forgiven if he considered dumping his new suit, part of the February Manager of the Month prize, in the nearest skip. Joking aside, since the announcement of the accolade, the Angels lost to the Marketmen, followed by defeat at Leiston (0-2) a few days later, and were then subsequently held by Staines Town (1-1). Meanwhile, injuries ravaged the squad and the smart-dressed-man has needed to cut his cloth accordingly.

Those of Tonbridge persuasion will be hoping the appeal ruling and midweek trophy win indicate the end of terrible luck.

The bid for National South football is very much alive at Dulwich, despite a current position of seventh in the table. The campaign has been interrupted by progress in cup competitions, particularly as a result of a thrilling run to the quarter finals of the FA Trophy. But a handful of games in hand provide an opportunity get things back on track.

That said, boss Gavin Rose will be aware a similar run in the national competition for non-league clubs at Bognor last term hit the Rocks’ promotion bid. The Sussex side had to play three times a week during the closing stages but almost pipped Hampton to the title despite the gruelling fixture programme. Hamlet defeated the runners-up in the play-off semi at Nyewood Lane, but later lost the final in Essex.

Recent trophy exits mean Dulwich should enjoy a relatively comfortable run-in, with just one three-game week.

The Pink & Blues do have the advantage of plenty of resources. A very strong squad has been assembled, in terms of depth and quality. Several vastly-experienced former Football League players are in the ranks, plus a trio with great potential once at Crystal Palace. There is a highly-respected youth set-up at Champion Hill and some starlets have moved to pastures new but later returned. Most of the team are stalwarts of the Ryman Premier and in many cases divisions above, including recruits previously at Bromley, Welling and Dover.

In 2017, there has been just a solitary league defeat, to Canvey Island (0-1) soon after the turn of the New Year. Prior to that, the South Londoners only lost one match a month - to Tonbridge in December (1-2), Staines in November (0-2) and Bognor in October (1-3).

The club should be able to reach the play-offs and a run of wins will soon build up momentum. With an eye on the weekend clash, Gavin Rose kept cards close to his chest on Tuesday, selecting a decent side but without many of the automatic choices in the starting line-up.

Angels’ counterpart Steve McKimm had to reshuffle his pack from those available - a growing injury list meant the team almost picked itself.

The Ryman Premier match between Tonbridge and Dulwich at Longmead Stadium on Saturday March 18 is a 3pm kick-off.

Match and Ball sponsors are our very good friends from Hadlow College while the Match mascot is 11 years old James Johnston. We thank them all for their valuable support.

Updated 10:37 - 19 Mar 2017 by Jim Rowe

Where next?

Up There Cazaly! Issue 3 A look at season 1972/73
Angels v Dulwich Hamlet (Part 2) : 18.03.17. : Programme Preview A look at tomorrow's programme as we face Hamlet for second time in five days


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