The 3-1 score line in favour of Dulwich Hamlet that saw Tonbridge Angels exit this season’s Emirates FA Cup at the 2nd Qualifying Round stage hardly does justice to the closeness of a match that was in doubt until the 87th minute.
The encounter that was to prove to be a typical end-to-end no-holds-barred cup tie started off quietly enough with both sides seemingly testing each other out. The first big chance came in the 21st minute when the evergreen ex Angel Jay May should have done better with his attempted conversion of a Nyren Clunis cross from the right.
On 32 minutes a sublime back heel from the Angels Alex Reid found Tommy Whitnell whose well timed run put him through with just Preston Edwards to beat but the shot struck with accuracy and pace was well saved by the Hamlet keeper at the expense of a corner.
By now the game had picked up a degree of intensity and just two minutes later May forced a decent save from Angels stopper Jonny Henly. A corner was Dulwich’s only immediate reward but eventually was to prove very fruitful for the hosts as Nathan Ferguson was to rise highest in the goal area to head the ball past Henly for the opener.
The Angels were to rue that missed chance as a couple of minutes later another player to have previously worn the blue shirt of Tonbridge, Nathan Green picked up a loose ball in the area and fired home to double the hosts advantage. There was controversy about the goal however as during the build up it appeared that James Folkes may have been fouled; he certainly went down injured but the referee saw nothing wrong and the goal stood. There followed some kind of altercation between Folkes and the referee which ended with the official showing the player a red card. Folkes persisted in proclaiming his innocence and had to be ushered off the pitch by some of his own players.
Two goals and a player down, and facing a National South side on their own ground it seemed an impossible mountain for Tonbridge to have to climb.
But this squad are made of stern stuff and to their great credit made it quite a contest. In the 52nd minute Sonny Miles reduced the arrears converting a Turner corner and it was very much game on.
With the man advantage, Dulwich enjoyed more possession but the Angels were often dangerous on the break. Good chances fell to Green and substitute Iffy Allen but the visitors defence stood tall and in a sense were the springboard for those quick moves that threatened to square the scoreline.
In the 85th minute substitute Jared Small outpaced his marker and delivered a searching low cross that Alex Read was inches away from meeting with no Dulwich defender near and although the ball eventually went out of play for a corner Turner’s delivery saw a desperate clearance off the line by a Dulwich defender. That was the Angels big chance to force the replay.
With 10 man Tonbridge pushing players forward it was perhaps inevitable that Dulwich would eventually find gaps and make things safe for themselves; that moment came three minutes from normal time when substitute Dipo Akinyemi put his team into the hat for the 3rd Qualifying Round.
Afterwards, Angels boss, Steve McKimm said: “I was very proud of my players today, sometimes decisions just don’t go your way and we are out of the FA Cup, we are all disappointed, but I cannot fault the team.”