Dartford have it all to play for on Sunday when they host Chelmsford City in the National South playoff semi final second leg.
The Darts will set up a mouthwatering final against rivals Ebbsfleet United on 13 May should both sides win this weekend. However, the Clarets will be standing in Dartford’s way after a goalless draw on Wednesday night kept the semi final in the balance.
Tony Burman made one change from the final league game of the season, Duane Ofori-Acheampong started in place of Andy Pugh. It was Chelmsford City who began well with Robbie Willmott’s tenth minute strike flashing wide past Deren Ibrahim, the Darts goalkeeper also turned over Louie Theophanous’ effort five minutes later. Chris Bush headed wide from a corner as the Clarets opened the first fifteen minutes brightly. Dartford’s Luke Wanadio did put the ball in the Chelmsford City net shortly afterwards, but the offside flag was already up. Five minutes before the interval, the Clarets wasted the best chance of the half when the ball was bundled past the post.
The second half improved but still there were very few clear cut opportunities, until Chris Dickson hit a volley over the bar just past the hour mark. The Darts managed to press their opponents more as the game developed but without creating much in front of goal. For the second leg, it’s likely Keaton Wood will have to be assessed as he was substituted after coming out of a challenge dazed.
Wednesday night was the fifth time this season the two sides have met, with home advantage counting for nothing. Dartford have now drawn two and won one in their visits to the Melbourne Community Stadium, whilst Chelmsford City have recorded two victories at Princes Park.
The first fixture between the clubs came back in the opening month of the campaign. Luke Wanadio headed Dartford ahead just before the hour but the lead didn’t last long. Shaun Jeffers, the Clarets top scorer in the National South this season with 21 goals, put the Essex side level eleven minutes later.
Drawn together in the F.A Cup, Dartford returned to the Melbourne Community Stadium in an intriguing cup tie. On a windy September afternoon, the weather was influential on the outcome with the Darts racing into a three goal lead before half-time. Goalkeeper, Ross Fitzsimons scored an unfortunate own goal early on and Elliot Bradbrook’s penalty and second goal five minutes later, put the Darts in a commanding position at the break. Chelmsford City fought back with two Shamir Mullings headers in two minutes to set up a tense finish, but the Darts held on to a 3-2 victory.
Fate would pair the two together again in the F.A Trophy second round at Princes Park. The meeting in January turned when midfielder Alex Brown’s reckless challenge left Dartford a man short. Chelmsford City eventually took advantage when Chris Dickson’s far post finish secured a 1-0 victory for the away team. A month later, the Clarets repeated the same scoreline in the National South, this time Anthony Church’s deflected effort found the net to earn the Essex club three points.
Whilst Dartford are aiming for a return to the National League after a two year absence, Chelmsford City have never reached those heights but do have plenty of Playoff experience. The Clarets reached the Playoffs four times in five years between 2009 and 2013 and lost at the first hurdle on each occasion. They also lost out in an Isthmian Premier League Playoff semi-final back in 2007. Meanwhile, the Darts only Playoff campaign was a successful one five years ago, earning them promotion to the National League when they beat Basingstoke Town and Welling United.
Dartford boss, Tony Burman stated that getting his club to the playoffs this term was amongst his greatest achievement for the club. Although he led the Darts to promotion five years ago to the National League he feels this time round it’s a bigger deal considering the budget available compared to others in the division. One thing Burman does have going is previous playoff experience within his squad. Elliot Bradbrook, Tom Bonner, Lee Noble, Danny Harris and Ryan Hayes were all part of the winning side five years ago.
Chelmsford City will have some former Darts hoping to prove a point with Max Cornhill in midfield, Josh Hill in defence and Luke Daley on the wing. The Clarets also have an array of attacking options such as Shaun Jeffers, Chris Dickson, Louie Theophanous, Elliott Buchanan, Robbie Willmott and Anthony Church.
The winners will face either Ebbsfleet United who finished second in the National South or Hampton and Richmond who ended up seventh, on the 13 May. The Fleet are just about in the driving seat currently leading the semi-final 2-1 going into the second leg.
Head to Head
Dartford wins: 36 / Chelmsford City wins: 52 / Draws: 91
End of Season League Form
Won 3-2 v Poole Town (A)
Won 4-0 v Bishop’s Strotford (H)
Won 3-1 v Hampton and Richmond (H)
Lost 0-2 v Hungerford Town (A)
Won 4-3 v Eastbourne Borough (H)
Drew 2-2 v Hemel Hempstead Town (A)
Chelmsford City (DWWLWW)
Drew 1-1 v Hungerford Town (A)
Won 3-1 v Bath City (H)
Won 3-1 v Welling United (H)
Lost 0-2 v Oxford City (A)
Won 3-0 v Poole Town (H)
Won 2-0 v Hampton and Richmond (A)
Meetings This Season
Chelmsford City 0 Dartford 0 (03/05/2017 – National South Playoff)
Dartford 0 Chelmsford City 1 (18/02/2017 – National South)
Dartford 0 Chelmsford City 1 (14/01/2017 – F.A Trophy)
Chelmsford City 1 Dartford 3 (17/09/2016 – F.A Cup)
Chelmsford City 1 Dartford 1 (13/08/2016 – National South)
On This Day
Twenty three years ago Dartford finished their first season back after reformation. The campaign ended with a ‘home’ match against Deal Town at Oxford Road, Sidcup where a 2-2 draw secured a sixth place finish. Micky Collins top scored in 1993/1994 with 21 goals, future Dartford boss Gary Julians scored 18 and Paul Hennessy 15. Tony Burman finished the season with 21 appearances (12 from the bench) and two goals.