Hemel Town were denied their first win in the National League South for more than three weeks when they were held 3-3 after a remarkable first-half and late ending at Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday.
It was a superb advert for non-league football, with six goals and drama at the death in front of more than 2,500 people, who saw Dulwich sporting a fantastic special kit in support of the Redthread charity which was matched by Hemel’s equally-bright green attire, adding to the spectacle.
After some early Hemel pressure, Dulwich took the lead through Dan Thompson, grabbing a goal after just five minutes. It was a neat finish after a quick counter attack stretched Hemel’s backline.
But the home fans hardly had time to finish celebrating before Joe Howe equalised for the Tudors in the 12th minute.
Up to this point, the game had been end-to-end but once the game calmed down a bit, Hemel kept possession well.
Despite not being able to penetrate the box, Hemel grabbed a long-range effort from captain Jordan Parkes in the 28th minute, a superb effort into the top-right corner after he found himself in a pocket of space on the edge of the area.
It was the super-skipper’s tenth goal of the season in all competitions.
Dulwich continued to look dangerous on the counter but were giving Hemel too much space around the edge of their own danger zone and Parkes took advantage, smashing a contender for goal of the season with a brilliant long-range shot that somehow evaded the 6ft 10ins frame of keeper Simon Jørgensen and looped into the net to make it 3-1 with just half-an-hour gone.
As half-time approached, the home side started to look dangerous and they pulled a scrappy goal back, taking advantage of some sloppy defending with Thompson getting his second after tucking it in underneath Tudors’ stopper Laurie Walker.
It was frustrating for Hemel as they had looked good value for their two-goal lead.
The Tudors almost and probably should have restored that cushion in the dying moments of the half when they saw two efforts cleared off the line by Anthony Cook, who received a big ovation from an extremely relieved home crowd at the break.
The second period saw Hemel drop deeper and deeper into their own half in an effort to protect the now slender lead, much to the frustration of the travelling Tudor Army.
They were relying on the long ball which played into Hamlet’s hands somewhat, with their centre-backs mopping everything up and launching a wave of attacks.
Just when it looked as though Hemel might hang on, despite having to defend in numbers, they were hit by a classic sucker punch on 89 minutes when Hamlet were awarded a penalty kick. It looked harsh to say the least but sums up the Tudors luck recently when it comes to the officials and their decision-making.
Nyren Clunis and a freshly subbed-on Decarrey Sheriff had been causing problems and it was Sheriff who saw his attempted effort strike a hand in the Hemel box. The referee appeared to award a corner, only to change his mind under pressure from Dulwich players and supporters alike.
The Tudors showed the displeasure, racking up a handful of yellow cards in the process, but the controversial decision stood and Sheriff stepped up to tuck the spot-kick away to level the scores at 3-3.
It was tough on the visitors, but on the balance of the second-half, Hamlet probably deserved a share of the spoils.
Things could have got worse when the hosts, roared on by the big crowd, forced a series of late corners in search of a winner but Walker and his defence held firm for a draw and a point that felt like a defeat at the end.
Hemel have been on the end of a few contentious decisions lately and they will be hoping their luck will change sooner rather than later.
Walker summed it up by saying he hadn’t seen such a strange decision in all of his long career, with the referee clearly pointing to the corner flag before succumbing to the pressure.
Despite all this, the point still moved Hemel up one position in the league table, from 14th to 13th.
It was all very frustrating and with a daunting match away at high-flying Woking next up this Tuesday night, Tudors’ fans will be hoping the footballing Gods will begin to look down more kindly on them.
Hemel line-up v Dulwich: Laurie Walker, Joe Howe, Oliver Swain, Jordan Parkes (captain), Darren Ward, Frankie Musonda, Jacques Kpohomouh, Scott Shulton, Leon Lobjoit, Herschel Sanchez Watt, Kavan Cotter. Subs: James Kaloczi, Tom Hamblin, Jack Snelus, Arel Amu, George Paulin.