The August Bank Holiday saw Dartford travel to Hungerford Town just 48 hours after their 2-1 victory over Braintree Town at Princes Park.
Recent visits to Town Ground, Bulpit Lane haven’t been kind to the Darts, with them losing the last three excursions to Berkshire. Unfortunately, those defeats have also seen the Darts fail to find the back of the net. Having said that, however, Adam and Jamie’s side were victorious the last time these two met, with a 2-1 victory at Princes Park last season. When you add the dominating victory over Braintree on Saturday, the visitors surely arrived with increased confidence of getting a resultagainst Ian Herring’s Crusaders.
The Dartford managers made just the one change from Saturday, with Luke Warner-Eley returning in place of the unwell Ronnie Vint. The ever-improving left-back was joined by Rob Howard, Josh Hill and captain Tom Bonner. Lee Noble and Luke Allen commandeered the midfield, while Luke Wanadio and Alex Flisher started out on the wings. The attacking partnership of Adam Cunnington and Darren McQueen continued, while Mark Smith continued in goal. Ryan Hayes, Ben Greenhalgh, Amos Nasha, Cameron Brodie and Norman Wabo were listed as substitutes.
The strong lineup reflected the ambitions of Adam and Jamie’s recent statement, where they [Adam] discussed the importance of positive results over the Bank Holiday weekend. The Darts arrived at Bulpit Lane with the intention of building on Saturday’s win.
The Darts worked tirelessly in the extreme temperatures to earn themselves a 2-2 draw. However, a little more luck and accuracy in attack would have seen them come away from Berkshire with all three points. Unfortunately, football can be a cruel game sometimes, and that proved to be the case at Bulpit Lane.
The early exchanges were pretty even, although it was the Darts who threatened first when the tireless Cunnington hit a sweet volley, only to see it go wide of the far post in the 4th minute. Unfortunately, it was the hosts who then took the lead three minutes later, as Hungerford were quick on the counter. Zidan Akers managed to get past Hill and slot the ball past Smith. The following ten minutes saw the Darts getting back into the game and Flisher forced a good save from Crusaders’ keeper Adam Siviter. The goalkeeper’s efforts were in vain, though, because Dartford were level a minute later. McQueen was the recipient of a great cross and he connected with the ball perfectly, sending it into the back of the net with an exquisite overhead shot. The celebrations were justified as the search for an away goal at Bulpit Lane was finally over.
The thirty minute mark arrived having seen referee Andrew Humphries stop play earlier to allow a drinks break, as the heat was starting to take its toll on both sets of players. Wanadio was feeling confident and skillfully played his way into shooting range, only to see his effort go wide of Siviter’s post. A minute later the Dartford number 10 was celebrating a superb goal that gave the visitors a well-deserved lead. Noble played a beautiful ball out to Howard, who then looped in a peach of a cross towards Wanadio. Wanadio then volleyed the ball into the back of the net to put the Darts 2-1
up to the delight of the travelling supporters.
Hungerford went straight on the attack and came close in the 34th minute, as Kofi Halliday got the better of Warner-Eley [after the latter stumbled] and forced an outstanding save from Smith. At the other end, the visitors should have made it 3-1 six minutes from half-time when McQueen got on the end of a beautiful ball from Noble. To his dismay, his free header went agonisingly close, but over the bar.
The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw Dartford create two good opportunities to extend their lead. First Cunnington broke free of the defence in the 52nd minute, but his left-footed effort sailed over the bar. Two minutes later Wanadio received a long ball from Smith, then both him and McQueen were able to keep it in the air and release it into the path of Cunnington. The big number 16 rifled in a piledriver which forced Siviter into a superb save.
In the 69th minute, the Darts came close again when Flisher saw his free kick ricochet off of Marcus Johnson-Schuster and onto the post. Moments earlier saw the referee stop proceedings for another drinks break and Wabo replaced McQueen. Hungerford appeared to step up a gear as they gathered momentum in search of the equaliser. The visitors were aware of the threat and Nasha came on for Flisher, as Adam and Jamie took measures to maintain the lead.
Greenhalgh replaced Wanadio in the 82nd minute as both sides continued creating opportunities, and it was the hosts who managed to breakthrough with a slightly fortuitous equaliser two minutes from time. James Constable saw his shot excellently saved by Smith, but the goalkeeper failed to clear the ball from danger, and Conor Lynch was there to slot it home. And so the Darts came away with a hard-fought draw in a game they thoroughly deserved to win.
The players can be proud of another strong performance which saw them pick up four points over the Bank Holiday weekend. Heads can be held high however, because the three-game [seven if you include the end of last season] losing streak has come to an end, and the lack of goals scored at Bulpit Lane has also been laid to rest. Two superb efforts from McQueen and Wanadio saw to that!