BY YANN TEAR
email@example.com Dulwich Hamlet’s return to Champion Hill at Christmas has not produced the massive pick-me-up in results the club had hoped for, boss Gavin Rose has admitted.
The club spent nine months in exile because of a rent dispute with ground owners Meadow Residential and groundshared with neighbours Tooting & Micham United.
But now they are back, away sides, lifted by the higher attendances and sense of occasion, are raising their game, whereas some of Rose’s players have struggled to readjust to playing in front of bigger crowds.
Rose says his players are having to work “that much harder” to make home advantage work for them.
There is no disputing the contrast. Back in November, when they were at Tooting’s Imperial Fields Stadium, Hamlet drew crowds of just 320 and 366 for the visits of Oxford City and Weston Super Mare. The first of those two fixtures was on a Saturday, too. Even the visit of top-of-the-table Torquay – not so long ago in the Football League – attracted a very modest 1,441.
Back at Champion Hill, the fans have been back in force.
Attendances of 2,900 and 3,000 were racked up for the visit of Eastbourne Borough on Boxing Day and Slough Town a few days later. That is pretty much full capacity.
The seven fixtures since their return have ranged from 2,353 against Welling United to 3,104 against Bath City. Their crowds regularly outstrip many teams in the National League.
But Rose, who has seen his side win three and lose three since their return, said: “Everyone’s had to get used to the surrounds and atmosphere again and it hasn’t been so easy for all of the players.
“We have gone from playing in front of about 800 fans to more than 2,000 now and we’ve had to adjust. Even those who had previously played at Champion Hill had to get used to it again.
“Some just don’t perform as well when they get in front of a bigger crowd, while some of the teams we’ve played against have been spurred on playing in that atmosphere and I think we’ve had to work even harder to get results.
“We are starting to make it feel like home again and we want to make it a fortress but it hasn’t happened overnight.
“That said, it is of course vital that we are back for the long-term future of the club and the community. I’m not sure we’d have finished the season staying where we were because you can’t survive in the Conference South with the crowds we were getting.
“Everyone’s rallied to get us back in the stadium and whether we remain there or find a new stadium, we need to be in the area for future generations.”
Hamlet will expect another bumper crowd tomorrow for the visit of Truro City – who are level with them, five points above the relegation zone. A win would do wonders for Hamlet’s hopes of beating the drop.
But Rose says his side will need to make a much better start than they did at the weekend, when they were slow out of the blocks at St Albans City and failed to recover from an early goal they conceded.
“For the first 20 minutes, we didn’t turn up,” said the Hamlet manager. “It’s something that’s caused us problems all season – starting slowly and going behind before we start to play.
“We had spoken about this in the past two weeks but it happened again and at times it feels like two steps forward and one step back for us. There are enough games left to get well clear of trouble but also enough to get right back down there.
“The players have to give themselves a chance and to be on the front foot from 3pm – not wait for things to happen.
“There are some good teams in this division but not a lot of difference between most of them, so it’s all about fine margins. We probably had most of the possession on Saturday, hit the post a couple of times and saw their keeper make a great save right at the end, but we took too long to get going.”
Dulwich will be aiming to avenge a 3-2 defeat suffered at Truro in November.
“We had a good game against them at their place, but lost to a late goal,” Rose said. “We are fairly evenly matched, as the league table shows. There wasn’t much in it then and I don’t imagine there will be a lot in it this time, so we need to start well and make home advantage tell.”
Dulwich have two injury setbacks to contend with at the moment. Skipper Magnus Okuonghae will be out for another two or three weeks after suffering an achilles tendon injury in the recent defeat at Torquay. Fellow defender Jay Rich-Baghuelou could be out for a month after badly spraining an ankle in training.
But the good news for Rose this week is that young Colchester United striker Decarrey Sheriff has extended his loan spell at Champion Hill.
The 21-year-old, who has scored three times since joining Hamlet in January, will remain at the club until the end of April.
IMAGE BY KEITH GILLARD