So far this season Sittingbourne hadn’t had a home league match with one of the teams in serious contention at the top of the table.
But when they did, they found Tooting & Mitcham just too good for them.
For half-an-hour, at least, during which the south Londoners raced into a three-goal lead.
Tooting were stronger, quicker, more incisive, and just overwhelming during that powerful start.
After that it was a different matter and Sittingbourne actually ‘won’ the second half, but, of course, the damage had been done by then.
On a beautiful autumnal afternoon, Sittingbourne started with the same team that beat Three Bridges in midweek, up against a Tooting side who have an impressive away record already this season.
Tooting, who’d already won 3-0 on this ground earlier this year, started well and took an early lead when the dangerous Wilson cut in from the right and pulled the ball back for Dunn to hit a first-time powerful shot into the far corner.
Sittingbourne responded and Tom Carlse, who headed their midweek winner at Three Bridges, got in a powerful 17th minute header from a Sam Welch cross that hit the Tooting bar.
But generally it was Tooting pushing forward with guile and pace, and after Simon Overland had made a good save and Conrad Lee had cleared one off the line, they made it 2-0 on 29 minutes when Dunn was unmarked at the far post to head in, again following great work on the right by Wilson.
And two minutes later the same player wasn’t closed down on the edge of the area as he turned to strike home his hat-trick goal following a free-kick unluckily conceded by Stefan Wright.
Tooting continued to look the more impressive side for the rest of the half but Sittingbourne made a much better job of it in the second half.
The visitors were dangerous on the break but generally content to hold on to their lead, though Welch did get back to clear one effort off the line.
At the other end, Jordan Gallagher got clean through but overran the ball and the Tooting keeper fumbled a good Ricky Gundry cross, before Sittingbourne pulled back a goal midway through the half.
Steven Ita played a low corner in to Josh Wisson, and the promising young sub took two touches to pick out Gundry at the far post to head home his first goal for the club.
Was a comeback, which hadn’t really looked possible in the first half, on the cards?
Well, it hardly looked likely 10 minutes later when the referee somehow missed a blatant ankle-tap on the breaking Carlse, and the ball was swiftly transferred to the other end where Tooting won a penalty for a challenge on sub Day. Hat-trick man Dunn took it but Overland dived to his right to save it excellently.
Back came Sittingbourne and Wisson with a header and Gundry went close, and then Wisson and Carlse had shots desperately blocked in a final flourish.
Even then Tooting got in one last breakaway attack but Overland made another impressive close-range save.
Overall, Sittingbourne clearly have some making up to do against the division’s top teams – Tooting are undoubtedly one of them – but at least they kept battling and fighting and showed some spirit in defeat.
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Tooting & Mitcham Utd :
Billy Dunn: 9 mins, 29 mins, 31 mins
Ricky Gundry: 67 mins
Referee: Robert Clausson
Assistants: Charlie Acton, Oliver Roguez
Conrad Lee (Yellow)
Jono Richardson (C)
Tom Brunt (Josh Wisson 57 mins)
Stefan Wright (Joe Loft 70 mins)
Jordan Gallacher (Hicham Akhazzan 76 mins)
Subs not used: Dan Tanner, Connor Wilkins
Sol Patterson-Bonner (C)
Chace O'Neil (Yellow)
Danny Bassett (Taurean Roberts 59 mins)
Billy Dunn (Ollie Bennet 88 mins)
Claudio Hoban (Ashley Robertson 59 mins)
Subs not used: Scott Day, Adriano Moraes
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