Pre-season positives at Dulwich Hamlet

With Dulwich Hamlet’s season starting on Saturday, Ollie Goodwin looks at their prospects based on two pre-season friendlies against youngsters from Arsenal and Millwall

football ground

Pre-seasons can be difficult to read. It’s always nice to be winning football matches, no matter the circumstances. But these games are often the place where new tactics, players and systems can be deployed with little consequence.

When Dulwich Hamlet took on Arsenal under-23s in the first match over a four-day double header of friendlies, it was also going to be the toughest challenge of their pre-season.

Coming off the back of losses to Sutton United and Whitehawk, Hamlet were hoping to get their pre-season back on track against Arsenal’s youngsters from North London and Millwall’s from South of the River.

The back end of last season was disappointing for Dulwich. Have you ever seen a car being crash tested? Car and dummies hurtling into a brick wall going from 80mph to absolutely nothing at all in seconds, with all momentum lost and nothing but twisted wreckage remaining.

Well it wasn’t that exactly, but there were certainly similarities.

Hamlet went from promotion contenders to lower mid-table in the blink of an eye. A nine-game winless spell will haunt manager Gavin Rose as he hopes to address some of the issues from the back end of the last campaign.

The heat beat down on South London and the pubs spat out supporters in the direction of Champion Hill; it once again seemed Saturdays had their significance back.

Judging by the empty pint glasses, red faces and noise levels, people were making the most of having Hamlets return. Dogs, a sea of retro football shirts and pale ales galore … ahhhhh … The Hamlet were back.

football match

It was the first time Dulwich had hosted the Arsenal under-23s for more than 15 years; the first time Arsenal had been in town for a while – since the days of Tony Adams.

There was a new crop of young guns on show, but it was hard not to lose yourself on a barnstorming sunny afternoon at Champion Hill.

It felt like a family barbeque and everyone was there, even that weird uncle who gets rolled out when it’s sunny enough.

As the game kicked off new signing Nana Owusu nearly made himself an instant hero when he cut in from the left and smashed the ball against the crossbar.

This seemed to be the best Dulwich chance of the game as a talented Arsenal side took control of the game having most of the possession and pressing high into the Dulwich half, keeping home side’s pushes forward limited to long balls.

As Dulwich tried and tried to play out from the back the Arsenal front men were able to keenly punce and take possession in menacing situations but were unable to make Hamlet pay.

There was some real talent on display for the visitors. Most notably, captain Matt Smith who had shades of Kevin De Bruyne.

He seemed always to have an abundance of time; he never looked like he was hurried and was able to pull away from any Hamlet players at the speed of a tug-boat from a freighter, or so it seemed from the touchline.

He harried, passed and pulled every string possible for the visitors.

Arsenal deserved a goal on multiple occasions after good build up play through Smith, Charlie Patino and Joel Ideho.However Ronnie Vint, who signed another year deal in the summer, and Jack Holland put in some brilliant last gasp challenges to fault the Arsenal youngsters.

There was also some heroics from Grainger in goal as Hamlet managed to keep it at nil-nil—with a slice of luck as the visitors smashed the woodwork on multiple occasions.

It was a result that most Hamlet fans would have taken had it been offered pre-match. There were certainly positives.

With limited service, winger Kalvin Kalala, another new addition, was able to put together a few nice moves and touches. He looks to be a good player with technical ability and dynamism going forward—something that was slightly lacking last season.

With Arsenal out of the way, it was the turn of Millwall under-23s to arrive at Champion Hill off the back of the hottest day this country has seen for millenia.

football match

Maybe it was the heat, maybe the lack of dogs and people in retro tops filling Champion Hill that made the game a bit … underwhelming, even for a pre-season fixture.

Dulwich lost 1–3 with a side filled of changes after the good performance on Saturday against a far better outfit.

Tom Leahy opened the scoring for Millwall after a good break. Ronnie Vint was consistently fed some horrific passes around the back, putting Hamlet in danger every five minutes or so.

There were fewer long balls, even if the circumstance deserved it, Gavin Rose obviously making it clear he wants shorter build-up play.

Hamlet clearly missed Holland at the back and a much changed side had much of the ball but could not put anything meaningful together against the visitors from down the road.

As the rain drizzled down and a few Hamlet fans welcomed a cooling shower, the game somewhat fizzled out; in what was, if we’re honest, a drab pre-season fixture.

But there were positives to take away from these fixtures.

Kelvin Kala popped up with a goal against Milwall and looks like a great signing. A clean sheet against a good Arsenal side is sure to fill Ronnie Vint and Jack Holland with confidence to keep a few more clean sheets this year.

With the first game of the season looming, Dulwich will surely have their eyes set on a promotion or playoff push.

I guess only time will tell whether this is the squad to take Hamlet up. The retro shirts and pale ale drinkers can dream of more silverware for the lads in pink, but if last season’s anything to go by, they won’t make it easy.