Tonbridge Angels 1-1 Dulwich Hamlet - We got our rewards at the end because this side will never give up, says Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm

Saturday 02nd January 2016
Tonbridge Angels 1 – 1 Dulwich Hamlet
Location Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent TN10 3JF
Kickoff 02/01/2016 15:00

Ryman Premier League
Saturday 2nd January 2016
Stephen McCartney reports from Longmead Stadium

TONBRIDGE ANGELS manager Steve McKimm says his side will never give up after claiming a deserved point with a last-gasp equaliser.

The two biggest clubs in the Ryman Premier League locked horns on a rain-soaked day and a crowd of 1,095 – Tonbridge Angels’ largest crowd of the season – were treated to an entertaining game to start the New Year.

Dulwich Hamlet arrived in Kent sitting at the top of the table on 49 points from 26 games, while fourth-placed Tonbridge Angels (46 from 24) would have reached the summit had they won today’s game as Hampton & Richmond Borough and Billericay Town fell victim to the wet weather.

Tonbridge Angels’ were the dominant force during the first half but they couldn’t find the magical touch in front of goal and went in at the break on level terms.

Dulwich Hamlet turned it up during the second half and were the better side and they deservedly opened the scoring through right-back Mitchell Nelson’s header, scoring his third goal for the club since his summer move from Margate.

But Tonbridge Angels kept pressing late on and big target-man Nathan Elder also scored with a header – his 18th goal of the season – the goal timed at 45:53 at the end of the game – as they reached third-place with their sixth draw in their last eight league and cup games.

“I think it was a good game of football,” said McKimm, 40, afterwards.

“I felt first half we were the better side. We had the better chances and I felt second half for 25 minutes at least they were much better than us.  We sat a bit too deep but in general it was a good advert for Ryman Premier football.

“They’re a good side, good players and it showed me how far we’ve come in a short space of time so they’ve been building, they’ve got new players in who are gelling but they’re a quality side and you can see why they’re up there.

“You can see why they’re tipped as favourites, they’re a very good side.

“I felt especially first half we matched them. Second half they gave us a bit of a lesson for 25 minutes but my team never give up and proved it with a goal with the last kick of the game.”

Dulwich Hamlet boss Gavin Rose, meanwhile, was also content with an away  point at their title-rivals.

“It’s a hard one. I thought first half Tonbridge were the stronger team, probably didn’t have any gilt-edged chances but I thought they were the stronger team and were in the ascendancy.

“I thought second half we were the stronger team and felt we did have a lot of gilt-edged chances.

“On reflection we probably say we wanted to come away with the three points but there wasn’t a lot in it.

“Obviously the manner we’ve lost the win in terms of the last minute (goal) is a little bit of a disappointment but on the whole I thought it was a good game.

“I thought it was very well competitive for both teams, definitely a game of two halves.

“I felt if we finished our chances in the second half a little bit more we would’ve run out quite comfortable winners but I think in the first half Tonbridge were very good, had opportunities as well. 

“I thought it was a good game for the league, a good advert, so yes, no grumbles.”

The efforts of groundsman Ian Jordan vertidraining the pitch during the week ensured this clash between two title-chasing clubs went ahead as planned.

McKimm said: “That pitch is better than other pitches in this league and it held up well, especially with the amount of rain that we’ve had over the last few days.

“We wanted the game on. A good crowd. A big noisy crowd. Dulwich fans were fantastic, my fans were fantastic. It made for a good atmosphere and a good game. The spoils were shared, which was good for us.”

Tonbridge Angels started the game on the front foot and created their first opening after only 152 seconds.

A big kick by goalkeeper Anthony Di Bernardo was hit straight down the middle of the pitch and Elder won his first of many first half flicks. 

Tom Parkinson, who won the midfield battle and stopped Dulwich Hamlet’s supply chain, played the ball to Luke Allen, who released Luke Blewden.

The striker, who was deployed wide on the right, unleashed a right-footed angled drive from 16-yards, which forced Phil Wilson to dive to his right to tip the ball around the post.

“I changed the shape because I felt midfield pushing on getting the other side of them might hurt them,” explained McKimm.

“I felt first half we were the better side. Second half they battered us for a good 25-30 minutes.”

The resulting corner was taken by Nick Wheeler and Elder’s planted header was cleared off the line by Dulwich Hamlet central midfielder Jack Dixon.

Dulwich Hamlet’s first chance arrived inside nine minutes.

Nelson threw the ball to Nyren Clunis, whose first time shot on the turn screamed just past the near post.

Tonbridge Angels shaded a tight opening 20 minutes, before they created some decent chances to stun the league leaders.

Parkinson shrugged off his marker and sprayed the ball out wide to impressive left-winger Wheeler, who cut into the penalty area to drill his right-footed shot just past the near post, as Wilson dived to his right to attempt to make a right-handed save.

Blewden then played the ball inside to Parkinson, who found Wheeler again, and he stroked his right-footed shot straight at Wilson from 16-yards.

“Nick was good again,” said McKimm.

“Second half he didn’t really get on the ball but we all sucked too deep but first half he was getting loads of the ball and he was causing problems getting crosses in.

“I don’t think we put enough crosses in like we have done all season.  Two crosses we did put in second half Tom Parkinson’s had a header and Nathan Elder scored the goal so it proves if you put crosses into the box it causes problems for defenders.”

Speaking about the former Lewes winger, Rose replied: “He’s been a good player for them this year. He was decisive in the goal with his cross so we knew about him and the threat that he carried but we felt generally that we wasn’t set up very well and it meant individuals like Wheeler could affect the game.

“Second half we corrected things a little bit more and we felt their threat didn’t carry as much weight in the second half.”

The well-oiled Dulwich Hamlet attacking machine just couldn’t get going in the first half.

Dixon hit a speculative drive harmlessly wide from 35-yards, before Tonbridge Angels continued to threaten.

Sonny Miles clipped a sublime diagonal ball out of defence which landed at Wheeler’s feet, who played the ball into Elder, who laid the ball into Luke Allen, whose 30-yard drive flashed across Wilson and past the far post.

Wheeler was in defensive mode in the 28th minute and his clearance came out to Dixon, whose right-footed drive from 30-yards sailed harmlessly over the Tonbridge crossbar.

Elder and Blewden linked up well in the final third and Wheeler’s low shot was comfortably saved by Wilson, who dived to his left and cushioned the shot with his leg before grabbing hold of the wet football.

“The sort of saves that you expect him to make,” said Rose.

“We were never happy that the shots were coming in but still really comfortable they were shots from those sort of distances we’d be happy with Phil taking.”

Dulwich Hamlet’s real first half threat came in the 33rd minute following a set-piece.

Damian Scannell floated in a free-kick from the left, which Di Bernardo flapped at and Ryan Moss’s flicked header was blocked by Laurence Ball 12-yards from goal.

“We had maybe a few half chances but nothing to talk off,” admitted Rose.

McKimm added: “Then that shows how well we’ve played in the first half doesn’t it? To limit them to that one chance, against a good attacking side, scored lots of goals this season but we’ve been good defensively. We’ve had 12 clean sheets out of 25 games now.”

With the weather turning to the worse, Parkinson met Sam Rents free-kick with a downward header which bounced into Wilson’s gloves.

When asked about the playing surface, Rose said: “I thought the first half we struggled to come to terms with the pitch but both teams have played on it.

“Second half we proved that we could play on it and played it very well so that’s not really a reason for anything.”

Allen penetrated the Dulwich Hamlet defence with a mazy run before unleashing a left-footed drive from 20-yards into Wilson’s midriff, before Dulwich Hamlet sliced a good chance wide late on.

Albert Jarrett raced down the right wing before whipping in a cross into the Tonbridge box but Clunis sliced his shot harmlessly wide.

Tonbridge Angels created the last chance of the first half.

Wheeler’s second and last corner of the game was cleared back to him and he found himself inside the penalty area to clip in a cross which was flicked on by Miles at the near post and Blewden directed his header just wide from six-yards.

“It just didn’t fall for us but if you’re creating chances, you’re doing something right. Like I say, I was very pleased with our first half performance,” said McKimm.

Both managers were asked what they told their players’ at half-time.

“Just keep doing the same thing,” came McKimm’s reply.

“The pitch was getting a bit zapping. It held up quite well, a lot better than I expected. Keep doing what you’re doing. We just need to put more crosses in, which we didn’t do enough of. 

“Again, second half we didn’t really put enough in as I’d like but it was one of those things.”

Rose knew his side could play a lot better during the second half.

Dulwich Hamlet’s longest serving manager said: “It was goal-less. We just wanted to affect the opposition a little bit more than we had.

“We spoke about our shape and we spoke about how we pass the ball a little bit better.

“We did really well in the second half. I thought the performance was excellent in the second half. We got in behind their back four and in behind their midfield really well.

“I think just the clinical finishing and decision making was the only thing stopping us making it a bigger advantage.”

Dulwich Hamlet came out with much more attacking purpose during the second half and impressed their fans behind the goal that gave their players excellent vocal support throughout.

Tonbridge kicked off and right-back James Folkes released Allen down the right and his shot stung Wilson’s fingers at the near post, the keeper gathering the loose ball at the second attempt with only 12 seconds on the clock.

Good play by Blewden saw him play Folkes on the overlap and he cut inside but lost his footing before sweeping his weak left-footed shot towards Wilson who easily gathered.

But Dulwich Hamlet were to be denied by a smart save from Di Bernardo after 51 minutes.

Nelson threaded the ball through to Dixon, who stabbed his shot straight at the former Peacehaven & Telscombe keeper, who made a vital block.

Clunis then cut the ball back towards Scannell, who was to be denied by a fine block by Parkinson, who was excellent.

“They had a few chances, but you’ve got to score them,” said McKimm.

“We had a few chances in the first half and didn’t score them so if you don’t take your chances the likelihood is that you’re going to get punished.

“We didn’t score in the first half, they punished us with that goal in the second half. 

“They had chances but we stuck with it. Tony’s made a great save as well and we’ve ended up getting the result.”

Tonbridge Angels called Wilson into making a comfortable save in the 58th minute.

Parkinson swept the ball out to Blewden in acres of space down the right and his right-footed drive from 20-yards forced Wilson to save low to his left.

McKimm added: “I changed the system a little bit, put Luke Blewden further forward and we got some rewards out of it. We just kept going and we always will keep going.”

Dulwich Hamlet immediately raced up the other end and Clunis burst forward and cut the ball onto his left foot before curling his shot just around the far post from 16-yards just 28 seconds later.

“I thought it helped him because he had a lot more of the ball and he was seeing a lot of the ball and not running back as much and he was able to affect it more,” Rose said of Clunis.

Jarrett cut towards the by-line on the right-hand side before floating over a cross towards an unmarked Clunis at the far-post, the Dulwich winger was off-balanced and could only poke his shot wide.

It was only a matter of time that dominant Dulwich Hamlet would end the stalemate and they did exactly that with 28:26 on the clock, following their third corner of the game.

Scannell floated in the corner from the left towards the far post and an unmarked Nelson rose to plant his header across goal and dropped in at the far post.

With so much quality on the pitch, it was a surprise that a right-back opened the scoring.

Rose said: “In those areas he’s a massive threat Mitchell. He’s scored a few goals this season from similar situations. Very brave, his timing is very good so no surprise for us. 

“The quality of the ball in from Damian was excellent and I thought he was fantastic today as well.”

When asked whether he felt that goal would be enough to claim the three points, Rose admitted: “No! I think on the balance of the game and the fact that Tonbridge have been such a strong team in the league this year, you wouldn’t expect them to lay down, although the boys still had opportunities to do well.”

McKimm added: “He was unmarked! I’m disappointed about that because they’re given numbers (to mark) and he managed to get there and he’s scored a header.

“Until I look at the video I can’t really say how good it was. I don’t think the movement was that great, just a ball floated in the box and we didn’t pick up.

“It seemed to take an age to go in but at the end of the day you’ve got to pick yourselves up.

“I felt a little bit disappointed for the first two or three minutes after that because we seemed to let our heads drop.”

Former Margate striker Moss squandered a great chance to kill off Tonbridge Angels with seven minutes left.

Dulwich Hamlet hit the home side on a three-versus-three counter attack down the middle and Scannell played in Moss through on goal but he dragged his shot past the far post with his right-foot.

“I think on another day Ryan would comfortably slot that away,” admitted Rose.

“He didn’t have much to feed on today. He was quite quiet for him today and that opportunity probably caught him quite a bit cold. On another day you probably expect him to score.”

McKimm said: “I think my two centre halves (Miles and Ball) kept him quiet today. I don’t think he had a lot going on.

“That was when we was pushing forward and he managed to get in. I changed the system so he’s bound to get in. I ended up leaving three-v-three at the back and at times people are going to get in.

“He missed his chance so that’s given us a helping hand to keep believing and my team do believe and I always do believe and we ended up getting a good goal.”

The home faithful felt their last chance came and went when Elder was fouled by Matt Drage after Miles pumped the ball towards the edge of the Dulwich Hamlet penalty area from the halfway line.

Allen stepped up and hit his right-footed free-kick over the bar from 22-yards with time running out.

“From that sort of distance I like them to just put their foot behind it and try to hit the target,” said McKimm.

“It’s very difficult to get it up and down from there. We don’t practice them all the time, you’re only on the training field doing it.

“The boy has come in and done excellent and he felt confident and if it goes in the top corner, I’m sort of raving about it but it didn’t and we felt that chance might’ve been the last one – but it wasn’t!”

Tonbridge Angels created another great chance to equalise with 74 seconds of normal time left.

Wheeler sprung into life after being kept in Nelson’s pocket during the second half and hung over a cross from the left towards the near post for Parkinson to rise and loop his header towards the top left-hand corner, which was caught by Wilson.

McKimm was delighted that Wheeler came back to life at the right time.

He said: “When you give him the ball he’s going to cause problems and large periods of the second half we didn’t really get on the ball as much as I’d like but we were on the back foot.

“Sometimes when you play a good side you have to soak up a lot of pressure and that’s what we’ve done.”

Rose added: “Definitely a good opportunity for them. We realised they were going to throw a lot at us at that point and we had to withstand their attacks but obviously we didn’t at the end.”

Dulwich Hamlet immediately raced up the other end and just 26 seconds later were to be denied by another smart save from Di Bernardo.

Substitute left-winger Rhys Murrell-Williamson cut into the penalty area and drilled his shot towards the top near corner, but a strong hand high to his right from the keeper ensured the ball went behind for a corner.

McKimm added: “Rhys is a good player, he’s direct, quick and he’s going for that near post when you expect him to go across the keeper. Tony’s pulled off a wonder save from there, that’s kept us in the game.”

But Elder was to become Tonbridge Angels’ hero by scoring a last-gasp equaliser, which the home side deserved.

Rents played a short free kick into Wheeler, who whipped in a quality cross from the left and Elder peeled off his man at the near post to glance his header across Wilson to find the far corner.

“He’s ended up putting a great cross in and we’ve scored from it,” said McKimm.

“We only had a little bit of time but I try to get my players to be clever and be brave and Nick’s come short for it, Sam’s given it to him and gone around the outside of him and he’s whipped a ball in. 

“Balls whipped in like that are dangerous because if a striker doesn’t get a head on it defenders don’t know what to do with it. It was such a great ball, Nathan managed to get a bit on it and it’s in the back of the net.”

McKimm added: “We had to be resilient. When we went one goal down, the boys stuck with it and they kept doing what I asked them to do and we got our rewards at the end of it because this side will never give up. None of my sides ever give up and that’s a trait that we’ve got.

“We will keep going. They’re a very good side but we didn’t look out of place.”

Rose felt his side could have defended better.

“I thought first and foremost we didn’t set up very well,” admitted the Hamlet boss.

“They had a two-v-one with Clunis left on his own, which should’ve had another player out there to stop him getting the cross in and we were a little deep on the cross.

“The ball is coming in with that quality and pace and any touch would be decisive – and it was!”

Clunis was forced off through injury before the end of the game and Rose was asked the condition of the winger.

“We’re not sure how bad it is. It could well be a bit of cramp really, we’re hoping it is and not a pull. He got through a fair bit of work.”

On the subject of injuries, McKimm was asked about Anthony Riviere, who went off after 62 minutes.

“Rivs is no younger but the pitch kept zapping. He got a kick in the first half on his instep and he struggled through it and at the start of the second half he could feel it again.

“I just made the decision to bring him off and put Jack Parter in there, whose chomping at the bit to come back and I thought he did well in that centre midfield role.”

Both managers were happy with the point and the clash at Champion Hill on Easter Monday could decide which of these two clubs go on to claim the league title.

“We go home happy with a point because that was a game that we didn’t have to win,” said McKimm, whose side are now in third, three points behind Dulwich Hamlet with a couple of games in hand.

“Let’s make no bones about it. We’re in a position that we don’t really think we should be.  We earned the right to be there. We want to stay there but if you play a team like Dulwich, who are favourites for the league to start with and we’re way down, it just shows me how far we’ve come as a team and a club to hold Dulwich at home one-all.

“We’ve still got those games in hand on them so it was important they won so they’ve got a bit of breathing space.

“We didn’t have to win but I would say over the two halves that was a fair result with us in the first half and them in the second half and that’s what Ryman football is about but it was an exciting game. It was good to be a part of. The players are dead on their feet in there and we go to Grays on Wednesday.”

Rose too has kept a lid on talk of title talk going into the New Year.

“A bit early to talk about the title race.  We just want to be competitive.  We want to be as high up in the league as possible as we can and then March is a chance we’re in and around it we’ll probably have those discussions about it then.

“But there’s work to be done before that. Each team in and around the top spot know that you don’t talk about it in January because a lot of good can happen and a lot of bad can happen.”

Tonbridge Angels: Anthony Di Bernardo, James Folkes, Sam Rents, Tom Parkinson, Sonny Miles, Laurence Ball, Luke Allen, Anthony Riviere (Jack Parter 62), Nathan Elder, Luke Blewden, Nick Wheeler.
Subs: Charlie Webster, Tommy Whitnell, Jerrome Sobers, Aaron McGuigan

Goal: Nathan Elder 90

Booked: Sonny Miles 41

Dulwich Hamlet: Phil Wilson, Mitchell Nelson, Jordan Hibbert, Danny Waldren, Matt Drage, Ethan Pinnock, Nyren Clunis (Jordan Clarke 90), Jack Dixon, Ryan Moss (Kevin James 88), Damian Scannell, Albert Jarrett (Rhys Murrell-Williamson 71).
Subs: Dean McDonald, Mehmet Piro

Goal: Mitchell Nelson 74

Booked: Danny Waldren 41, Jack Dixon 81

Attendance: 1,095
Referee: Mr Michael Webb (Aldershot, Hampshire)
Assistants: Mr Shelby Elson (Farnham, Surrey) & Mr Kwame Hinson (Aldershot, Hampshire)