Heading into the last matchday of the campaign one point clear of rivals Brentford, Wanderers knew a victory would get the job done irrespective of how The Bees got on away at Watford Development as both games kicked off at 2pm.
Lou Cooper again opted for the same eleven that had started the previous four matches, with top scorer Cherelle Khassel back in the matchday squad after being absent for the previous two games against Leatherhead and Watford.
Conditions at Coldharbour Leisure Centre, Eltham were overcast but warm as both sides made their way out onto the 3G surface ahead of kick off. For Wanderers it was a first game not played on grass since their final home fixture of the season against Richmond Park at the beginning of the month.
A fourth consecutive away game for Wanderers, they started this one by immediately pinning Dulwich back into their own half, a couple of early speculative crosses dispatched into the penalty area before Hannah Thomas was unfortunate not to find Gemma Shepherd with a low cross into the near post area, the Hamlet goalkeeper out quickly enough to claim.
Despite the confident start, it was the hosts who actually registered the first attempt on goal, No17 twisting and turning just inside the penalty area to forge space before unleashing a strike on target, a comfortable catch though for Jenna Morris.
The industry of midfielder Xayla was again key in linking attack play for Wanderers; her angled through-ball found Katie Butts in an onside position towards the far post, the winger unable to generate enough power in her strike however and it ran through comfortably to the goalkeeper. Shepherd had a shot inside the box also easily saved before Butts turned provider for Xayla from a corner kick, the header at the back post nodded just wide.
Wanderers got reward for cranking up the pressure in the final third midway through the half to open the scoring. The Hamlet defence, often looking to play out from the back throughout the contest, were pressed high by white shirts after a corner broke down, and after successfully winning the ball back it was slipped it into the path of Charlotte Keenan, who directed a cool first-time finish into the bottom right corner from several yards out, the striker’s 15th of the campaign.
Shepherd managed to connect with a cross from the left to hit the cross bar not long after the opening goal, the Wanderers forward then bringing the Dulwich keeper into action with a low diving save down to her right. Charlotte Crook drove an effort fraction’s wide after a corner ball spilt out to the defender near the edge of the box, and Wanderers continued to dominate and push for that important second goal leading up to the interval as Shepherd cushioned the ball nicely into the path of Xayla, the midfielder dragging her effort beyond the post before Shepherd played a measured through ball into the path of Keenan, the goalkeeper equal to the attempt at close range.
The tempo of the game had dropped off in the early stages of the second half, Wanderers still very much in command of possession with the central midfield trio of Xayla, Alice Bowles and Rebecca Sargent continually sharp in regaining the ball to prevent Dulwich making any attacking headway.
Cherelle Khassel came off the bench at half-time for Wanderers in place of Keenan, and just past the hour mark, the former Portsmouth striker netted her 27th of the campaign to double the advantage. Xayla was quick to intercept the Dulwich defence looking to play out from the back , and shifted the ball across to Khassel, who drilled a strike emphatically into the top corner of goal.
Sticking to their principles of playing rather than going direct out from the back, Xayla again caught the Hamlet defence with a high press shortly after the second goal, the ball going via Shepherd this time on route to Khassel, the goalkeeper able to pull off a good save down to her right to keep out the resulting low strike.
Sarah Sparrow had come on for Wanderers earlier in the half for Hannah Thomas out on the left side, and after firing a dangerous ball across the face of goal Sparrow set up Shepherd after advancing down the wing, the Wanderers No10 denied before Xayla spurned an excellent opportunity to put the game to bed, blazing over inside the box as she couldn’t quite get over the ball from a central position.
Into the latter stages of the contest, chants of ‘Campeones, Campeones, ole, ole, ole’ could be heard by the travelling Wanderers support, confirmation coming through via social media that Watford had in fact defeated Brentford 3-2 at Bovington FC.
Despite this and the player’s no doubt becoming aware of the situation, there was still time for Wanderers to sign off the campaign in style, adding a superb third goal with virtually the last kick of the game in stoppage time to wrap up the three points and the title. Khassel turned on the afterburners to impressively keep the ball in play by the right touchline, playing it inside to Mika Keen, she in turn passed to fellow late substitute Abby Delves advancing towards the edge of the box, and the midfielder would slam the ball into the top corner of goal – some way and time to score her first for the club.
Moments later, the referee blew the full time whistle – cue the celebrations as players, management, volunteers and supporters congregated in the Wanderers half of the field.
Towards the end of March and into the start of April, Lou Cooper’s side had endured a run of three games without a win. The dip in form, in tandem with their cup exploits and weather postponements led to them not only falling behind on points but on number of games played against the teams above them. Their hopes of a title win and promotion demanded a very strong end to the campaign in what would now be a tightly scheduled final run of matches, with the final four taking place away from home. A subsequent run of eight straight wins though, including a successful defence of their Capital Cup trophy against title rivals Brentford last month, has ultimately propelled Wanderers to win the league, edging ahead of their rivals with two games remaining and staying at the summit to lift the title and earn that coveted promotion to the London & South East Regional Premier Division.
League and cup double achieved at the end of just their third season, the exciting journey for the Dorking Wanderers Women will continue in 23/24 as they compete at the 5th tier of Women’s football for the very first time.
Dorking Wanderers (3-5-2): 1 Jenna Morris (c), 8 Charlotte Crook (7 Bianca Underhill 84′), 6 Cindy Colliver, 3 Olivia Stuart; 16 Katie Butts (19 Mika Keen 84′), 4 Alice Bowles, 14 Rebecca Sargent (2 Abby Delves 87′), 11 Xayla Rae-Alberts, 5 Hannah Thomas (15 Sarah Sparrow 60′); 9 Charlotte Keenan (13 Cherelle Khassel 46′), 10 Gemma Shepherd
All Subs Used
Goals: Keenan 28′, Khassel 61′, Delves 90+2′
Referee: Mark Sullivan