Alex Wall’s second-half header cancelled out Dylan Adjei-Hersey’s first-half effort, as Dartford fought back to earn a hard-fought point at Bulpit Lane on a cold Tuesday night.
As 268 supporters ventured out in temperatures fast approaching 0°c, battle commenced on the Berkshire pitch as both sides struggled to get a firm grip on proceedings.
The visitors started quite brightly and forced the first corner within two minutes. However, with the Hungerford defence heading it clear immediately, it was becoming clear that this was going to be a tight affair.
The Darts came close in the 11th minute when an error at the back let Pierre Fonkeu in. However, despite getting to the ball, goalkeeper Jed Ward was just quick enough to block not only that strike, but Alex Wall’s half-chance as well.
The visitors were in control during this period and it wasn’t long before they created another good opportunity. Samir Carruthers, fresh from his suspension, raced up the pitch before seeking out Fonkeu. The Dartford forward then found Luke Allen with a neat pass, but Allen’s strike was deflected away to safety by Rhys Tyler’s well-marshalled defence (13).
We then reached the point in the half where nothing worth mentioning happened. Both sides refused to give an inch, and a majority of play saw the ball being pinged back and forth in the midfield. If there was going to be a goal, it looked for certain that it’d arrive via a set-piece. Unfortunately for Dartford, that’s exactly what happened during the additional minute at the end of the half.
The Crusaders won a corner, which Ryan Jones duly took. The cross was delightful and was met by the head of Dylan Adjei-Hersey… who sent it into the back of the net by the narrowest of margins (45+1).
The Darts began the second forty-five determined to get themselves level and were awarded ten minutes in. Like the host’s opener, this too came via a corner, which was swept in by Samir Carruthers. Alex Wall got on the end of this one to pull his side level, despite shouts from Hungerford boss Danny Robinson that his goalkeeper had been pushed in the process. The referee, Mr Tom Ellsmore wasn’t interested and the Darts were deservedly level (55).
Two minutes later, however, Mr Ellsmore and his linesman would have the hosts infuriated… A good ball sent Joe Boachie through and he scored to put the Crusaders ahead once again… or so he thought! Despite being clearly onside, the linesman flagged him off, and Mr Ellsmore chalked off the goal! Hungerford were infuriated, and rightly so on this occasion, while the Darts breathed a sigh of relief and got on with the game.
Despite the remainder of the game offering very few clear-cut goalmouth action, Hungerford were the side who had the best of the opportunities. Louis McGrory forced Dan Wilks into a decent save in the 65th minute, before Ryan Jones smacked the crossbar with a fierce drive from distance (79).
To make matters worse for the hosts, George Smith missed a great opportunity to win the game with an open goal glaring at him (81), before Pierre Fonkeu forced a routine save from Jed Ward in the 85th minute.
Alan Dowson used two of his available substitutions this evening, the first of which saw Luke Coulson come on to replace Jack Smith (70). That was followed by Malachi Napa replacing Samir Carruthers with eight minutes remaining.
The result sees Dartford remain in full control of their own destiny for top spot in the battle for the play-off places, after Tom Bonner and Co put in a positive performance on a difficult night.
HUNGERFORD TOWN: Jed Ward, Louis McGrory, Fabio Lopes, Luke Delaney, Joe Boachie, George Smith, Matt Berry-Hargreaves, Rhys Tyler (c), Dylan Adjei-Hersey, Jerry Gyebi, Ryan Jones.
SUBSTITUTES: Curtis Angell, Great Evans, Leslie Duru, Stefan Ilic’, Kyle Bailey.
DARTFORD: Dan Wilks, Samir Carruthers, Connor Essam, Tom Bonner (c), Luke Allen, Alex Wall, Keiran Murtagh, Maxwell Statham, Isaac Ogundere, Jack Smith, Pierre Fonkeu.
SUBSTITUTES: Luke Coulson, Obi Onyeagwara, Ben Dudzinski, Jernade Meade, Malachi Napa.
By Chris Palmer