DARTFORD manager Tony Burman says his side have not reached the heights of playing in fifth gear despite extending their unbeaten run to eight games.
The Darts booked a trip to their Vanarama National League South rivals Welling United in the Second Round of the Kent Reliance Senior Cup but the holders were given a scare by Ryman League Division One South side Cray Wanderers on a chilly night at Hayes Lane.
Both sides went into the game sitting in seventh-place in their respective leagues. Burman made four changes after beating Slough Town 3-2 in The FA Cup Third Qualifying Round, while Cray Wanderers made eight changes to the side that eased to a comfortable 3-0 win over Molesey at the weekend.
A crowd of 148 were treated to a highly-entertaining game with a high number of chances, with Dartford coming from behind to seal the victory.
Cray Wanderers though a cup upset was on the cards when winger Ben Mundele scored his first goal for the club in the first half.
But Andy Pugh (who scored a 90th minute winner at Slough at the weekend) came off the bench at the interval and equalised with his third goal of the season, before a miss-hit shot from big target man Duane Ofori-Acheampong sent Dartford’s hardcore fans home happy.
“Well, we just made it hard work again, that’s for sure,” admitted Burman afterwards.
“It was a strange game but sometimes the Kent Senior Cup games can be strange.
“I’ve put a real strong squad out because we didn’t train this week. We’re using this as our training session because we’re going away to Truro on Saturday. I just wanted to give everyone another 90 minutes – or 45 minutes and there was a couple of players which needed that – instead of training twice this week
“In all fairness, I thought we should’ve been three or four goals up in the first 15 minutes and then we haven’t converted those chances and you’re always liable to get caught.
“Because there were so many chances that things got a little bit complacent and then all off a sudden we’re a goal down. That side of it happens but it’s disappointing that it does happen.
“It’s just a case, from our point of view, we felt we had to put the ball in the back of the net, but when they were 1-0 up they could’ve been two, possibly three when the post saved us. It got sloppy for us simply because we haven’t converted the chances.
“When we got one in there all of a sudden the game changes. We could’ve got another goal but it wasn’t to be.
“Cray have done ever so well against us and they’re probably thinking they maybe deserved something but at the end of the day we’ve gone through.”
For Cray Wanderers boss Tony Russell he was proud of his pacy side’s performance tonight against players whom play two levels higher.
“I’m over the moon with that, absolutely over the moon, just brilliant,” he said.
“I made eight changes from the team on Saturday. We’ve come away missing two open goals and hit the woodwork twice against a very strong Dartford team so that’s without the chances we’ve had as well.
“I suppose it was a good game of football. I was delighted.”
Dartford dominated for the opening 15 minutes and created their first chance when winger Luke Wanadio cut inside and played Ellis Brown in behind the Cray defence and the winger turned striker was denied by Nick Blue, who swiftly advanced off his line to smother the shot.
Dartford won the corner count by 15-5 and Ryan Hayes swung in their first with his left-foot from the right and Ofori-Acheampong glanced his header off the underside of the crossbar from two-yards out at the near post.
Burman said: “That’s the thing I’m saying, they need to go in and they didn’t go in but when they don’t go in you leave yourselves a little bit vulnerable. When we had so many chances other things sometimes get a little bit lax and I think that’s exactly what’s happened on the goal.”
Russell added: “I don’t follow Dartford but the names I saw on the teamsheet they looked quite a strong side, so it’s a very strong side and we made eight changes and we’ve got four teenagers playing in there.
“I said to them before the game when I saw the teamsheet, you’ll go two ways as players, you’ll either melt or you’ll look at it as a great challenge and for the first 5-10 minutes we were a little bit like rabbits in headlights until we started settling down and getting onto midfield. Lee Prescott controlled the whole first half.”
Lee Noble played a one-two with Ofori-Acheampong and dragged his right-footed shot past the far post, before the target-man laid the ball inside to Ronnie Vint, the central defender hitting a first time right-footed drive past the post from 30-yards.
Ofori-Acheampong was also in the thick of the action when he played a low pass across the face of the penalty area, only for Hayes to bend his shot around the far post from 18-yards.
It took Cray Wanderers 16 minutes to create their first opening.
The returning Lee Prescott rolled the ball to winger Mundele, who twisted and turned his marker, cut inside onto his right-foot and dragged his shot past the far post.
Cray Wanderers’ second chance arrived just 63 seconds later.
Debutant Edgar Morais found space down the right channel and he drilled in a cross towards the far post and Mundele’s swept shot brought a comfortable save from Dartford’s debutant goalkeeper Bailey Vose, 18.
“He’s a lad whose come from Brighton, he’s a first year pro at Brighton,” revealed Burman.
“He’s someone who we know about because he lives in Sidcup but trained with Deren (Ibrahim) in the summer.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble trying to get a keeper because of the situation that we’re in and the loan situation and it’s only for a couple of games this game and Truro.
“But having said that, we’ll see how Del is (after coming back from international duty with Gibraltar). I needed someone whose got that little bit more experience in there but he’s come in and done well. I’m glad that he’s met all the players tonight and he’ll be with us on Saturday.”
Dartford’s Noble won the ball off Max Williams and played a long ball up to Ofori-Acheampong, who cut inside and his drive deflected off Jai McKinlay to roll past the post.
But Cray Wanderers grabbed the lead with 21 minutes and 39 seconds on the clock.
Prescott fed Morais in behind Keaton Wood and he whipped in a low cross down the right channel. Danny Haynes’ shot was parried by Vose and Mundele swept the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from three-yards.
“Ben’s been really patient, he’s a youngster, we had a look at in pre-season, but he’s got slight groin problems so he’s been in and out of the side,” revealed Russell.
“He’s a good player, he’s a really good player. It’s the first time he’s started tonight so he’s a bit excited. I know he got his goal eventually.
“The good thing about Edgar what he done really well, we talked about it, He got into the final third but he’s also picked someone out. He hasn’t just lashed it across, he’s got to the by-line and pulled it back and Danny’s hit a good shot, the keeper’s parried it and Ben’s followed it up like a good striker he is and tapped it in. We were just getting on top in that period of the game.”
Russell was full of praise of their pacy attacking threat.
“The two wide players are babies. It’s lovely to see when you get youngsters and you tell them to have a go, have a right go and they did. They weren’t scared of Dartford’s full-back and they went at them and caused them problems.
Burman added: “It was one ball that’s come out from their keeper, hit long and we haven’t dealt with it and all of a sudden we find ourselves 1-0 down! We should’ve dealt with it and it’s from our corner, I think.”
Vose made a comfortable save to deny Morais a dream debut, making a comfortable save as the striker tried his luck with a left-footed drive from 25-yards.
Ofori-Acheampong was being a pest to the Cray Wanderers defence and he held the ball up again and set-up Hayes again, the winger’s left-footed curler sailing just past the far post from 18-yards.
Ellis Brown made a 50-yard run with the ball down the right flank and his cross clipped the outside of the top of the near post.
“We had clear enough opportunities for us to take the lead and to go two or three up,” said Burman.
“You thought ‘there you go’ and it wasn’t to be. We suffered a little bit and made a little bit of hard work of it.”
But Cray Wanderers missed a glorious chance to take a two-goal lead into the interval in the 43rd minute when Morais was guilty for the miss-of-the-season.
Jeysiva Sivapathasundaram (who came on for Sean Roberts, who picked up a knee injury) played the ball forward but Keaton Wood’s back-pass was latched onto by Morais, who cut into the box, skipped past keeper Vose and had an open goal to aim at from 12-yards.
It appeared certain that he was going to score a debut goal, the goal celebration music was ringing around Hayes Lane as the ball was dinked towards an open goal.
Only Morais will know why his shot bounced against the foot of the left-hand post and Dartford got out of jail.
Russell said: “Once we went 1-0 up, I thought we controlled the game. I thought it was all us. We had chances before that.
“The goalkeeper’s rushing out of his area, he’s pushed it past him, he’s taken a touch walking towards goal. Everyone’s turned round and the music comes on and somehow he’s missed the post!
“But it is a big miss and it would be lovely on his debut to score but I asked him to go out there with no freedom and no fear and I’m not going to dig him out for that.
“I went to watch the under 21s on Monday and Edgar made his debut for the 21s and I plucked him out of the 21s and he’s started so he didn’t know no one. I just wanted to give him a go and although he missed two open goals, I thought he had a good game.”
Burman added: “I think it was a bad backpass, wasn’t it, from Keaton and Keaton’s done a bad back-pass and that’s caused from us by not dealing with things and yes they should’ve been 2-0 up but at the end of the day you can’t dispute in the first 20 minutes we should’ve been three, probably four goals up.”
Both managers were asked their thoughts at the break.
Russell said: “I congratulated them. I thought they were fantastic. On Saturday it was the best we played. We played Molesey and we won 3-0 and it could’ve been 10! We absolutely destroyed them and it was nice getting back into form.
“I said before the game I’m making eight changes and it’s a chance for people to lay down markers. We played against a very strong National League South side and we’ve controlled the game and really I’m disappointed to come in at just 1-0 up!
“I thought it could’ve been two or three if I’m honest. I think we’ve missed a few chances.”
Burman added: “We’ve got to be ruthless and you’ve got to be ruthless and you’ve got to not feel sorry for anybody. It doesn’t matter whose scoring, anyone could’ve scored. There’s a lot of people that had chances, just put the ball in the back of the net!”
Cray Wanderers missed another glorious chance to kill off Dartford after only 77 seconds.
Haynes fed substitute Brandon Scott, who hammered his shot over Vose’s left-shoulder against the underside of the crossbar. The ball fell nicely to Morais who clipped the base of the foot of the near post as Dartford were let off again.
Russell said: “Haynes went through the centre half came over, he’s laid it to Brandon whose come on and he’s hit the underside of the crossbar! It’s bounced back, no-one was around young Edgar, another open goal and he’s managed to hit the post.”
Burman added: “When those changes that they should’ve put in but they never – but we had chances we should’ve put in and never. It should have been all over in the first 20 minutes!”
Sivapathasundaram (who was playing in Roberts’ position left-centre of midfield) played a sublime pass from inside his own half to put Haynes through on goal but he dragged his shot just past the far post when he only had Vose to beat.
Dartford skipper Noble hit a right-footed volley screaming past the right-hand post from 25-yards, before Pugh rescued Dartford with a 58th minute leveller.
It was a clever move following their seventh corner of the night, taken short by Wanadio to Pugh, who played the ball back to the former Dulwich Hamlet winger.
Wanadio played a low pass inside to Noble, who played a clever little pass into Pugh, who took a touch before placing his shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Burman said: “It was a good move and it was a decent move what they’ve done. We wanted to give Pughy 45 minutes. He’s finished the shot off and now all off a sudden he’s got two goals (in two games) so great.”
Russell said: ”I’m just disappointed because Timmi (Osibodu) gone out. Timmi’s just come into the side and you’re two on one. He’s not going out there to make it two-v-two and the ball’s got laid square. To be fair to that Pugh, when he came on he livened them up a little bit. He looked bright and he caused us a few problems dropping in holes and also what he was doing as well was sitting on Lee Prescott, stopping him playing.”
Cray Wanderers were to be denied the lead just past the hour-mark when Mundele cut inside and his left-footed drive was blocked by Vose’s legs.
Russell said: “It was good, it was very good. Dartford were attacking and they had a go at us. We had a go at them as well. We carried a little threat ourselves.”
Wanadio’s corner – Dartford’s eighth – was met by Vint’s bullet far-post header, which was saved by Blue, diving swiftly to his right, beside the post.
Prescott then hit a first time drive into Vose’s hands from 30-yards, before Wanadio hit his right-footed shot on the turn over the Cray Wanderers crossbar at the other end.
But Dartford scored the winning goal with 71 minutes on the clock.
Vint advanced into the final third to clip the ball over to Ofori-Acheampong, who swept his shot across Blue, the ball kissing the base of the far post before apologetically rolling over the line.
Burman said: “I thought Duane was one of the better players on show tonight. He’s worked his socks off, he’s caused them a hell of a lot of problems. He should’ve scored with his header that’s hit the bar in the first half. Sometimes you do miss hit them and they go it. It doesn’t matter how they go in!”
Russell added: “He’s miss-hit it! I’m not overly distraught going out. The only thing you could’ve done all the while you’re in the competition, you can give youngsters a go, but we’ve got our eyes on different prizes this season. This was what it was and we used it for what it was. Boys came back from injury and youngsters got 90 minutes so it was an excellent exercise and not only that, I think for the neutral to watch this game of football, it was a good game of football as well. It wasn’t a bore fest. It was good quality.”
The open game continued as Pugh laid the ball off nicely to Wanadio, whose stroked shot was saved by Blue, while Scott’s angled drive at the other end was pushed behind by Vose.
Frenchman Joel Massamba was to be denied a debut goal in the last five minutes when his left-footed shot brought a low save from the Dartford keeper.
Ofori-Acheampong cut the ball onto his right foot only to place his shot just past the foot of the far post, while substitute Henry Fulton’s looping shot was caught by Blue, before the last chance fell to Ellis Brown, who cut inside to drill his 30-yarder just past the left-hand post as this was more like a basketball match.
Russell said: “It got a bit carnage. I don’t remember Bluey making too many saves. I don’t remember them ripping us open much but they’re very effective with the height and the set-plays and getting balls in the box.
“I said to the boys after, I’ve come away from this so much more excited. My stock is big. Most of the boys have not started for me. I’ve learnt so much more and I’ve got people in reserves that come in and did a job and some people have put performances down that we can have a serious look at.
“I said to the lads after ‘congratulations.’ All the sessions in the world that we could so, we’ve learnt so much from that and I appreciate Tony bringing down such a strong side. It was a great lesion for everyone.
“That’s a lesson you take from today, when you play against good sides and you get your chances, you’ve got to put them away!”
Burman added: “I’m pleased. The main thing was we’ve gone through in the cup.
“People have a bit of a go at it but we try to keep sensible with our team selection. We had to do what we done tonight. I had two Academy games today so I couldn’t put certain people in on the younger side of it.
“We’re quietly doing what we think is right and I’m not saying we’re setting the world alight and I don’t really want to set the world alight in October but we’re grinding our results, not playing the best but we’re still winning at the moment and I’m hoping we can do that.
“We’re very decent on the counter-attack, especially away from home. The more I can get them to play in fourth and fifth gear the more difficult we’re going to be and we’re going to get those heights and I hope when we get to those heights and we play really, really well and that we’re still winning.”
Cray Wanderers: Nick Blue, Ade Osifuwa (Brandon Scott 46), Timmi Osibodu, Jay Leader, Jai McKinlay, Lee Prescott, Sean Roberts (Jeysiva Sivapathasundaram 36), Max Williams, Edgar Morais, Danny Haynes (Joel Massamba 81), Ben Mundele.
Subs: Bradley Woods-Garness, Charlie Horbacki
Goal: Ben Mundele 22
Dartford: Bailey Vose, Tom Gardiner, Keaton Wood, Tom Bonner, Ronnie Vint, Alex Brown (Elliot Bradbrook 70), Ryan Hayes, Lee Noble (Henry Fulton 87), Duane Ofori-Acheampong, Ellis Brown, Luke Wanadio.
Subs: Tom Wynter, Tony Coxall
Goals: Andy Pugh 58, Duane Ofori-Acheampong 71
Referee: Mr Jack Packman (Margate)
Assistants: Mr Joseph McKay (Maidstone) & Mr Connor Stacey (Gillingham)
Match Report provided by Kentish Football