The London Senior Cup semi-final
Balham’s incredible run in the London Senior Cup continued as they knocked out Ismithian League side Dulwich Hamlet with a fantastic 1-0 win to reach the final of the tournament.
Dulwich hosted Balham, not at Tooting & Mitcham’s Imperial Fields stadium as originally planned, but instead on the 3G pitch of Carshalton Athletic’s War Memorial Sports Ground, due to last week’s postponement.
With both teams playing in unfamiliar surroundings, neither side was able to get a handle on the game in first quarter of an hour. From the off, however, Balham were adept at putting Dulwich under pressure and strong in the tackle, which resulted in a number of promising attacks, Tomasz Wocial and Anis Nuur coming closest to opening the scoring for Balham in the first half hour.
Eventually the hosts were able to pick up the pace and create chances, Haydn Read making a solid save down to his right from a Dulwich header. The best opportunity of the half fell to Dulwich, with full back Sanchez Ming firing well wide from the edge of the box. That miss, on the stroke of half time, ensured that the two sides went in to the half time break without a goal being scored.
Balham suffered a blow in the first few minutes of the second half, with Wocial coming off injured. The loss of his aggressive pressing on the left hand side gave Dulwich an advantage and they produced their best 10 minute spell of the game. This meant that Balham keeper Read was forced into action frequently, but he dealt with the pressure well. He collected a multitude of crosses, caught numerous long range efforts and pulled off a superb save to deny a header from Ming.
Dulwich continued to threaten, forward Dipo Akinyemi forcing a block from Marco Erriu just after the hour mark. However, Balham were able to defend well and prevented many further chances from being created. As the game entered the final 15 minutes, both teams were looking strong offensively. Dulwich brought on winger Nyren Clunis as a substitute on 75 minutes, and he almost made an instant impact. Winning the ball off a Balham defender, he found himself 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper, but wasted the opportunity by firing over.
With little under 10 minutes left to play, Balham started to find more room in attack. Thomas Fosse, who had been lively all game, was desperately unlucky not to score, hitting the post from distance after dribbling past two players. Then Arsen Ujkaj found space to shoot on the edge of the area. His shot dipped dangerously in front of the goalkeeper Corey Addai and he was unable to hold it, leaving Luke Fenlon to sprint onto the loose ball and slot into the bottom corner, incredibly putting Balham in front in the dying minutes.
There was still enough time for a Dulwich response, and they came forward with real purpose. The referee chose to add on 5 minutes of injury time, and Dulwich used that time to try to force extra time. Once again, they could not find their way through; Read authoritatively claimed every long ball, although with almost the whole team in the box, Balham also had to clear one attempt off the line.
Right at the death, James Adebayo, who had come on as a substitute for the injured Ibz Olutade, had a chance to seal the win for Balham. He was denied by the Dulwich keeper Addai, but just moments later, the referee finally blew the whistle for full time. The Balham players and fans celebrated on the pitch, the result marking a “magical evening” according to boss Greg Cruttwell.
“What can you say? It was a magical evening, and it shows dreams can come true. They are 2 levels above us, but it was a well deserved win for us. It was a great game for the club.”
Balham will play Cray Valley in the final of the cup, after they defeated Tooting & Mitcham United last week in the other semi final.
Team: Read H, Fenlon, Henry (C), David, Erriu, Fuller J, Nuur, Ujkaj A, Olutade, Fosse, Wocial
Subs: Adebayo, Savage, Gallagher, Free, Neish (GK)
Goal Scorer: Fenlon
The final will take place on Wednesday 9th May the venue is yet to be announced