A Kev Terry hat-trick saw Leatherhead promoted to the Ryman Premier division after a 28 year absence following a remarkable display in Saturday’s play off final at Fetcham Grove in front of over a thousand spectators.
Trailing 1-3 with eight minutes left on the clock plus stoppage time, Terry almost single-handedly took the game to extra-time with two late goals before sealing the Tanners victory with a stunning solo effort after 95 minutes.
Hundreds of Tanners fans spilled onto the pitch at the final whistle to salute Leatherhead’s heroic comeback whilst the Dulwich players went to applaud their fans behind the goal Amidst the celebrations Leatherhead boss Mick Sullivan commented “It’s mind-boggling. The players showed so much character to come back from three-one down. I’m so pleased for all the fans. It’s unbelievable”.
Dulwich outplayed the Tanners for long periods in the match, but it was Leatherhead’s relentless desire to push forward that won it in the end for the home side.
An hour before kick-off Sullivan was left with a massive whole to fill with Rob Hill failing a fitness test, meaning Liam Pestle started the match in the unfamiliar position of left back while Elliott Thompson was drafted into midfield.
Leatherhead began the match well with Greg Andrews testing Stuart Robinson with a curling shot after three minutes which the former Tanners keeper did well to turn away for a corner.
Tanners kept up the pressure in the opening quarter of an hour before Dulwich stepped up a gear and opened the scoring after 20 minutes. Thompson was caught in possession on the edge of the Tanners area by Gary Drewett and the quick thinking forward drilled a shot wide of Chico Ramos in the Leatherhead goal.
Tanners responded with a succession of corners and free kicks in the Dulwich half but could not produce an equaliser. Dulwich almost added another on 35 minutes when Ray Powell dispossessed Joe Hill to force a smart save from Ramos.
The visitors doubled their lead after 44 minutes. Drewett fired a shot into the Leatherhead box which was only half cleared and Vernon Francis crashed the ball into the back of the net.
Tanners came back almost immediately with a goal at the other end. Hutchings whipped in a corner from the right. A half clearance fell to Andrews on the edge of the box and he smashed it home for his 36th goal of the season.
Leatherhead almost drew level right before the interval when Mu Maan was brought down outside the visitors’ box. Andrews’ follow up free kick saw Robinson at full stretch to turn the ball away for a corner.
At the start of the second half Terry gave early indications of what was to follow, making a mesmerising run down the middle and playing a clever one-two with Hutchings on the right, before firing just wide of the far post from a tight angle.
Dulwich restored their two goal advantage after 53 minutes with a goal seemingly out of nothing. The visitors were awarded a free kick on the half way line and Drewett out jumped his marker on the 18 yard line to head home past Ramos.
Dulwich made their first substitution on the hour mark. Gerry Gonnella went down heavily following a seemingly innocuous challenge near the half way line. A lengthy stoppage ensued before Gonnella was stretchered off and replaced by Dean Carpenter.
Sullivan then made his first significant tactical change, withdrawing Elliott Thompson for the pace of Jack Macleod, who immediately opened up avenues down the right side. Sullivan then threw caution to the wind, replacing defender Joe Hill with the experienced Sol Patterson-Bohner in midfield.
Leatherhead surged forward with wave after wave of attacks. Patterson-Bohner and Mark Simmons both saw shots blocked and a Hutchings free kick went straight to Robinson.
It could have been all over for Leatherhead on 77 minutes. Powell beat an offside trap but he hit his shot straight at Ramos who did well to turn it away for a corner. Tanners captain Chris Boulter had to go off following a heavy collision with a Dulwich forward and was replaced by Dan Dean.
With seven minutes remaining Leatherhead pulled a goal back. Macleod turned his marker down the right and picked out Terry in the box to brush the ball past Robinson.
Following the lengthy stoppages in the second half the fourth official indicated a minimum of nine added minutes. In the seventh minute of injury time Hutchings guided the ball through a wall of defenders before finding Terry to tuck home an astonishing equaliser and send the play-off final to extra time.
Leatherhead sensed a victory was theirs for the taking. After 95 minutes Terry outwitted the Dulwich defence with a fine jinking run through the box to fire home and put Leatherhead in front for the first time in the match.
Tanners slowed the game down and Dulwich almost came back into it in the final five minutes of extra time. First Morath-Gibbs forced a great block from Ramos and then the Portuguese shot stopper made another fine point blank save from an overhead kick from Francis.
Dulwich almost claimed a dramatic equaliser in the last minute of extra time when substitute Kevin James fired into the side netting but Tanners held out until the final whistle to clinch an amazing win in front of the biggest crowd at Fetcham Grove since AFC Wimbledon played a league match there in 2005.
Leatherhead now prepare for next season, their first in the Premier Division since 1983. On the strength of this performance they will be no easy push-overs for any of their new opponents.
Meanwhile there’s the little matter of the Surrey Senior Cup final to contest against Corinthian-Casuals on Tuesday at Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane. Kick off is at 7.30pm.
Leatherhead: Ramos, J Hill (Patterson-Bohner), Thompson (Macleod), Boulter (Dean), Boswell, Pestle, Terry, Simmons, Andrews, Hutchings, Maan Dulwich Hamlet: Stuart Robinson, Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, Ahmed Deen, Vernon Francis, Francis Duku, Lewis Gonsalves, Nyren Clunis, Gerry Gonnella (Dean Carpenter), Ray Powell (Kevin James), Ethan Pinnock, Gary Drewett (Rob Gradwell)