By Ben Henderson
SUBSTITUTE DIPO Akinyemi scored a sensational 94th-minute winner as Dulwich Hamlet came from behind to secure their first-ever victory in National League South.
Akinyemi kept his cool with almost the last kick of the game to lift the ball over East Thurrock goalkeeper Jack Giddens and send the Hamlet fans at Imperial Fields in Mitcham into raptures.
Gavin Rose’s Hamlet had fallen behind in the 31st minute when Danilo Orsi-Dadomo shot the visitors ahead.
But the hosts leveled when Gavin Tomlin headed in with 19 minutes left, and Akinyemi – whose winning shootout penalty in May’s Isthmian League Premier Division play-off final secured promotion to the sixth tier – showed superb composure to earn his side all three points and make up for the disappointment of losing 2-0 on the opening day at Welling on Saturday.
Dulwich looked to open their home campaign on the front foot and were a threat down the right through Anthony Cook and Sanchez Ming, both of whom were magnificent throughout.
The first big chance came 15 minutes in as Nathan Ferguson sent over a beautiful cross from the right to the far post. Tomlin seemed perfectly positioned to nod the ball home but his header went over the bar.
Dulwich controlled possession well in the opposition’s half and created another chance through the lively Walter Figueira, who split the defence with an excellent ball to Tomlin, but Giddens got there first to clear.
Dulwich’s midfield axis of Dominic Vose and Ibrahim Kargbo were dictating the tempo and East Thurrock had little to offer in response – a speculative 35-yard half-volley from their left-back, Tom Stephen, epitomised their lack of attacking impetus in the early stages.
However, disaster struck totally against the run of play when Hamlet centre-back Daniel Pappoe attempted to dummy a routine ball over the top. Thurrock striker Orsi-Dadomo, however, didn’t fall for it and he ran clear to slot home under stopper Preston Edwards.
Despite that setback, the hosts continued to play well, but for all their build-up play they offered little genuine threat in the box.
With the last kick of the half, Cook sent a wicked ball across the face of goal from the left which ricocheted off Thurrock captain Lee Burns but somehow stayed out.
There was a similar pattern at the start of the second half with Dulwich controlling possession.
On 55 minutes Cook played in Figueira who struck a powerful shot from the right of the box that was saved Giddens. From the resulting corner Figueira shot on the turn from the edge of the box, but he was just off target.
Everything was flowing through Cook now. Soon afterwards, he surged into the right side of the box and unleashed another powerful shot, but Giddens was once again equal to it.
Five minutes later, Cook split the defence beautifully with a pass into the path of the marauding Ming whose pull-back found Tomlin with the goal gaping. However, the number 9 sliced his shot over from five yards out. Tomlin was immediately given a brilliant chance to make up for his miss after being sent through one-on-one, but his effort was saved.
Hamlet chances were coming thick and fast now. Vose continued to orchestrate in midfield and played in the imperious Cook on the right. His close-range shot was blocked onto the bar, then ricocheted back onto his head and appeared to cross the line. Cook wheeled away in celebration but the linesman was unmoved, to the outrage of Dulwich fans. Later replays showed that the ball was over the line by some distance.
At this point, it seemed as if nothing would get past the brilliant Giddens in the Thurrock goal.
However, after 70 minutes, Rose brought on set-piece specialist Ashley Carew. The midfielder was looking to make up for his red card against Welling.
Almost immediately he lofted a free-kick from just inside the opposition’s half towards the head of Cook, who nodded it back across goal to Tomlin. The home fans held their breath with the striker poised, and he earned his redemption with an excellent headed finish in off the post.
Dulwich went close twice with excellent chances for Figueira and Nathan Green.
The game appeared to be heading for a draw when, in the 90th minute, Cook was withdrawn for Akinyemi. And cometh the hour cometh the man. In the fourth and final minute of injury-time, Akinyemi latched onto a long ball from the back, dummied the Thurrock defence magnificently and showed excellent composure to finish.
The Dulwich fans erupted as their first victory in National League South was secured.