Rocks Review: Rocks 2 Dulwich Hamlet 2

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They were impossible to separate in the league table before this game - and the top two in Ryman one south were impossible to separate when they met under the Nyewood Lane floodlights.

But the Rocks would have had mixed feelings at the end of an ultimately-pulsating game - relief at a late equaliser by Luke Nightingale that rescued a point after Dulwich had gone ahead with five minutes left, but frustration at the woodwork which denied them several times to prevent them winning and gaining full revenge for last season’s play-off defeat.

It wasn’t only the frame of the goal that denied the Rocks - they also had what looked one of the clearest penalty claims you could wish to see ruled out and Ben Johnson booked for diving when the winger seemed to have been clearly brought down as he bore down on goal.

The draw keeps the sides in the top two positions, with the Londoners ahead by a goal difference of 14 compared to Bognor’s 13. And on this evidence, you wouldn’t bet against either being in the mix for the title at the end of the season.

As the fog which had descended in the couple of hours before kick-off slowly began to clear, Dulwich winger Sanchez Ming was perhaps fortunate not to have his name taken for a heavy early challenge on Matt Whitehead.

The Rocks were first to threaten and it was from a familiar source as Johnson’s floated cross from the left went over keeper James Tedder and shaved his far post before bouncing away to safety.

The Rocks were having the better of the early exchanges although Dulwich were a threat when they got the ball to Ming down the right, which they did at every opportunity.

Chris Breach found space for a long-range shot ten minutes in but although it was sweetly struck, it cannoned off a defender.

The best chance of the opening quarter-hour was made by Terry Dodd, who ran at the defence and sidestepped two challenges before firing a low shot that looked destined for the bottom corner until Tedder got a hand to it.

The home side also found their right side a useful outlet for a spell but a couple of crosses from James Crane, who was getting forwardwell, were too close to Tedder.

Craig Stoner gave the green army a scare when he misjudged a cross from the left and it flew over his head, but luckily it wasn’t too near the goal.

A lovely flowing move down the centre on 28 minutes ended with Jason Prior laying off a perfect ball for Crane, whose curling left-footed effort was only just over the bar, with the keeper struggling.

From nowhere, Dulwich took the lead on the half-hour and in spectacular fashion. A hopeful cross from the left was met by Frankie Sawyer, who spun in mid-air and in the same movement volleyed it into the top corner beyond Stoner’s dive.

Dodd almost bustled his way through for a quick equaliser but wanted one touch too many after his own persistence had presented him with sight of goal.

Then Ming got in again when Dulwich hurried Matt Whitehead and Johnson into giving away possession, and the wideman flashed a shot across Stoner and wide of the far post.

Five minutes from the interval, Dulwich had a central free-kick 25 yards out but Kalvin Morath-Gibbs blasted it high and wide.

Johnson had a similar dead-ball chance at the other end after Prior was illegally challenged, but his shot too was well over the bar.

HT 0-1

Controversry erupted nine minutes into the second half when Johnson went charging down the left and into the box and went down under a defender’s challenge - but instead of giving a spot kick, the referee booked Johnson for diving, to the disbelief of the Rocks players and fans.

Suddenly the Rocks had more life about them and Tim Bond’s close-range effort was superbly cleared off the line by a defender.

Luke Nightingale replaced Breach just after the hour mark as the hosts looked for a way through a resolute-looking Dulwich defence.

But the Rocks were on level terms in the 66th minute. Crane was played in down the right and after getting to the by-line his cross was handled by the first defender and a penalty was given.Prior put it straight down the middle to make it 1-1.

Now the Rocks’ tails were up and Dodd saw a fiercely-hit drive deflected and then palmed over by Tedder two minutes later.

A couple of Dulwich changes involved Charles Ofusu-Hene replace Mu Maan and Nyron Clunis come on for Ming.

Dan Beck went into the book for a meaty challenge s the visitors tried to make progress down their right.

Dulwich made their final substitution, Sol Patterson-Bonner replacing goalscorer Sawyer with 12minutes left.

The Rocks were doing most of the pressing in the final ten minutes - until Dulwich stunned the Rocks by retaking the lead with a terrific run and shot by sub Clunis with just five minutes on the clock.

It was a huge disappointment to the majority of the crowd of 534 - an excellent attendance again on a midweek night when Pompey were at home and Champions League football was on TV.

The Rocks didn’t take it lying down, though, and Dulwich had a lucky escape when Nightingale’s shot cannoned back off the base of the post and back into the keeper’s hands.

Still there was more drama to come as Nightingale hammered home a shot from close range after the goalie had saved at Prior’s feet in the 89th minute.

The Rocks sensed a chance to win in time added on when they won a free-kick 25 yards out, but Prior’s well-hit drive was blocked by the wall.

The performance should put the Rocks in good heart for Saturday’s trip to Kent to face Maidstone in the FA Cup second qualifying round.

Rocks: Stoner, Crane, Whitehead, Breach, Axten, Bond, Beck, Wills, Prior, Dodd, Johnson. Subs: Nightingale, Marzetti, Ide, Blatchford.

Dulwich: Tedder, Morath-Gibbs, Carpenter, Adeniyi, Duku, Bowen, Ming, Pinnock, Swayer, James, Maan. Subs: Patterson-Bonner, Clunis, Ofusu-Hene, Suliamanbangura, Kadi.

Ref: A Laver (Portsmouth)

Read Greg Miles’ report on Rocks v Dulwich Hamlet, plus all the reaction from the match and the rest of the news from Nyewood Lane, in the Observer - out on Thursday.