A windy Saturday the 10th of August saw Dartford take on Havant & Waterlooville at Princes Park.
The Hampshire club returned to the National South League after being relegated from the National League last season. They came into this game unbeaten with four points from their opening two fixtures.
The Darts, meanwhile, were looking to build on an excellent draw last time out against St Albans City, after losing their opening game at Wealdstone. They have a good record against the Hawks, having won the last three games here at Princes Park, and intended to keep that run going.
Despite recent form against the Hawks, Adam and Jamie were well aware of the threat of Paul Doswell’s side. The fact that today’s opponents are being tipped as the favourites to win the league would not have been lost on the Darts’ management. The team would have prepared for the challenge accordingly, and this was reflected with the same starting eleven as the previous fixture.
Mark Smith continued to be in command of the Dartford goal, with captain Tom Bonner being joined in defence with Josh Hill, Jordan Wynter, and Luke Warner-Eley. The midfield consisted of Luke Allen and Amos Nasha, along with wingers Luke Wanadio and Ben Greenhalgh. Meanwhile, strikers Adam Cunnington and Norman Wabo lead the attacking line. The return of striker Charlie Sheringham from injury was a pleasant surprise, as he was announced as a substitute. He was joined on the bench by Ronnie Vint, Ryan Hayes, Andy Pugh, and Cameron Brodie.
A combination of weather conditions, and a determined Havant & Waterlooville side, resulted in a game of two halfs… literally… as the Darts battled hard to earn a rewarding 1-1 draw in front of 873 supporters.
It was a rather quiet affair during the opening 20 minutes, with goal-scoring opportunities few and far between. The hosts looked the stronger as Havant & Waterlooville played into the strong wind. Dartford took advantage of the blustering conditions and slow starting Hawks, as they created a handful of opportunities. First Wanadio attempted a shot from the left, which goalkeeper Ross Worner saved with ease in the 5th minute. The excellent Cunnington combined well with Wabo, as the pair continued to grow as an attacking partnership. In the 9th minute, Wabo found space behind the Hawk’s defence after good work from Amos Nasha. The latter played a great through-ball, only for it to run away from the Dartford number 20 after his heavy second touch allowed Havant to clear
The conditions meant that Worner struggled to clear the ball out of his team’s half every time he kicked it high. This was also a feat that Mark Smith would encounter in the second half. In the 21st minute, Worner’s goal kick went high, but not far, ending up with Cunnington, who took the ball down comfortably before unleashing a good strike at goal. Unfortunately, to his annoyance, it went
sailing over the bar.
No meaningful chances were created during the next few minutes, but the referee, Scott Tallis, stopped play twice to allow treatment to be given to Wanadio and then Havant’s Josh Taylor. The latter, a result of a late challenge from Josh Hill, who earned himself a yellow card from the referee. The visitors then got themselves into some good positions, as they started to get into the game, but
nothing too troublesome for Smith.
Ten minutes from half time saw a great through ball to Wabo, who beat the offside trap and found himself in a great position. Unfortunately, he chose to lob the keeper, only to see his effort go over the goal. Five minutes after that saw the Darts awarded with a free-kick deep in the visitor’s half. Greenhalgh’s excellent delivery was met by the towering Cunnington, who had climbed above
everybody and connected with the ball perfectly. His powerful header flew into the far corner, and he celebrated his first goal for the club.
As the first half came to an end, Bonner received a yellow card for a challenge during a Hawk’s attack, but no further threat on Smith’s goal really materialised.
The second half saw Dartford having to play against the wind. This, together with a Havant & Waterlooville side searching for an equaliser, resulted in a much tougher half of football for the hosts. To be fair, the Darts started positively, as they passed and moved the ball well across the pitch, looking to get behind that Hawk’s defence. The early signs were that they’d be able to deal with the wind better than the visitors did in the first half. However, clear-cut opportunities were few and far between, and after ten minutes, the visitors started showing signs of having learnt how to deal with the windy conditions.
The visitors started to press more as the hour mark arrived, and they had the Darts on the proverbial ropes, forcing corners aplenty. Both Nicky Bailey and Jonah Ayunga had efforts blocked, the latter by excellent work from Tom Bonner. A further effort was excellently saved by Smith as the visitor’s momentum increased dramatically.
In the 66th minute, a Dartford attack was intercepted and Anthony Straker picked up the ball on the halfway line. He found Alfie Rutherford [who’d replaced Josh Taylor moments earlier], who managed to run into the Darts’ box, before playing the ball to Ayunga. The Hawk’s number 10 scored from 12 yards, bringing the score level.
With the wind firmly behind them, literally, Havant & Waterlooville took a firm grip on the game, as they bombarded the host’s penalty area, searching for the winning goal. Seven minutes from time, Roarie Deacon picked up the ball on the right flank, cut inside and struck a piledriver towards the Dartford goal. Thankfully, his effort struck the top of the crossbar, to the relief of the Princes Park faithful.
Despite the Hawk’s pressure, Dartford could, and maybe should, have been celebrating all three points if we rewind back to the 70th minute. With the visitors dominating, Dartford ventured forward and Ben Greenhalgh was taken out inside the Hawk’s box. Unfortunately, to the dismay of everyone, Scott Tallis awarded a free kick to the Hawks, instead of a penalty to Greenhalgh! It just didn’t happen for the Darts during the second half and Jordan Wynter earned himself a yellow card for kicking the ball away late on.
Luke Allen earned himself the Man of The Match award for his outstanding performance in midfield, and the Darts held firm in defence. Every man got stuck in and stood their ground, earning a hard fought draw at Princes Park.