BY JACK BURGESS
It was a tough afternoon for Dulwich Hamlet as they fell to a 1-0 defeat against Chippenham Town to confirm their relegation from the National League South.
With the stakes so high, a sell-out crowd of 3,334 supporters gathered at Champion Hill for what was the club’s biggest game since their promotion season in 2017-18.
The match started off in a predictably tense fashion, with Dulwich cautious in possession and failing to sustain any real dominance over the opposition as they struggled to create any real chances in the early proceedings.
The first opening of the game came on 29 minutes after captain Danny Mills won a free-kick just outside the penalty box. Conor Lawless swung the ball into the penalty area, with David Stephens directing his header goalwards, but straight at Chippenham stopper Will Henry.
Just three minutes after Hamlet had the chance to take the lead, Chippenham found themselves in front courtesy of Joe Parker, who finished calmly past Aaron Jones.
The final chance of the first half came after Dulwich midfielder Joe Felix darted past two defenders before pulling the ball back across the face of goal, with Danny Mills and Nana Owusu unable to send the ball goalwards.
After a disappointing first half Dulwich made two changes with Kristian Campbell and Cameron Thompson replacing Owusu and Josh Fawole. Manager Hakan Hayrettin, who returned to the dugout after missing the last two games through personal circumstances, switched from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 formation.
Dulwich started the half brightly. Their first opportunity came on 49 minutes through a Felix effort which curled just wide of the post, and on 59 minutes Lawless rode two challenges before fizzing an inviting ball across the six-yard-box, with the ball somehow managing to evade any contact and going out for a throw in.
Relentless Dulwich pressure almost paid off in the 68th minute when Lawless’ inswinging corner was met by Deon Woodman, who forced a fine save from Henry.
With the realisation of relegation looming at Champion Hill, Dulwich continued to bombard the Chippenham goal, with Sanchez Ming’s effort on 84 minutes hitting the side netting from a tight angle after a scramble in the Bluebirds penalty area.
Dulwich almost got the all-important goal that would have kept them up in the second minute of six added on. Ming’s inviting delivery was met in the air by Stephens, who forced Henry into another fine save, before Mills failed to convert the rebound with a header straight at the impressive Chippenham stopper.
The loss sees the club head out of the National League South for the first time since 2018.
When asked by the South London Press about his side’s performance on the day, Hayrettin said: “The performance wasn’t good enough on the day. I think a lot of players froze. A lot of players didn’t take advantage of the situation and we paid the price.
“Obviously I wasn’t here for the last two games. I was saddened by the result and the performance as well.”
When asked whether he sensed a nervousness about his players Hayrettin said: “No, not really. I just think you have 46 games and 46 opportunities. Since I’ve come in, we’ve won four, drew four and lost five. We gave them some hope and tried to revitalise the team. But, in my opinion, the squad is dysfunctional, and we saw that today.”
The South Londoners have conceded 89 goals, the most in the division. The Hamlet boss made his feelings clear on his side’s defensive record and lack of discipline.
“I don’t think conceding so many goals is a good thing, I think it’s a terrible thing. I also think the lack of discipline by certain players has cost us.
“George Porter getting sent off and Gio Crichlow getting sent off (suspended from previous match) played a massive part in today. It’s tough to accept. But you know, we tried to do our best. But if you’re in the position we’re in you deserve to get relegated.
“I’m pretty sure if I would have come here a month earlier it would have been different. But we weren’t and I tried my best. It’s been tough this week. Probably the toughest week of my entire life.”
PICTURES: ROB AVIS
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