‘Smash and grab’ in the snow
Hemel Hempstead visited promotion rivals Dartford on a snowy day at Princes Park with both sides aware that a win was crucial to maintain momentum going into the final stages of the season. The Darts were looking to bounce back after two defeats in their last three home games whilst for the visitors it was all about building on a recent 0-0 draw with new league leaders Havant and Waterlooville and a 2-0 win against East Thurrock United last time out.
It was a scrappy start from both sides but Hemel enjoyed the majority of the ball without threatening the Dartford backline. The Tudors soon converted their dominance into a chance through David Moyo who latched on to a long free-kick from inside his own half. Darts ‘keeper Bertie Schotterl was left in no-man’s land and was thankful to see Moyo’s chip nestle on the roof of the net.
The visitors continued to dominate with midfielder Michael Cain firing wastefully over the bar after Ronnie Vint’s block landed at his feet on the edge of the box.
The home side finally registered their first meaningful attack midway into the first half when Lee Noble found Ryan Hayes on the right, whose deep cross stood up for the unmarked Duane Ofori-Acheampong but he failed to make an effective connection.
Despite manager Tony Burman’s rousing pre-match comments that called for his players to show desire, the Darts failed to kick into life in the first half. The conditions made their job no easier with a wicked wind sweeping snow across the pitch – not the best day for Darts midfielder Alex Brown to take one flush in the face.
Dartford took the lead against the run of play after 32 minutes as Noble played in striker Andy Pugh on the edge of the box, but the industrious attacker still had it all to do. Pugh, who has notched 11 goals this campaign, duly obliged as he produced an excellent curled effort that nestled in the top left corner, helped by a slight deflection.
The Tudors were soon back on level terms however. Hemel captain Jordan Parkes, who ran the show at Princes Park, unleashed an unstoppable effort from 35 yards for his 12th goal of the campaign as the Dartford defence stood off, leaving Schotterl with no chance to stop his dipping effort. Darts players were furious that a foul on Pugh in the build-up had gone unpunished.
A lack of concentration perhaps contributed to Hemel pushing into a deserved lead just before the break. An overhit corner from the left ended up at the feet of Herschez Watt on the right and the ex-Arsenal man provided an excellent cross leaving Moyo with an unmissable opportunity at the far post.
The second-half continued in the same vain as the first with some lacklustre passing and distinct lack of quality from both sides. Dartford threw on 17-goal striker Alfie Pavey and Danny Mills but didn’t look any closer to an equaliser until Hemel brought on their first two replacements, which seemed to unsettle the balance of the side.
Hemel did have the chance to extend their lead when Watt, their main attacking outlet broke run down the right leaving Tom Bonner on the floor, before unselfishly squaring the ball to Scott Shulton who should have settled the game but saw his effort well blocked by Nathan Collier.
With 10 minutes to go it didn’t look like the missed opportunity would prove costly as the Darts failed to trouble the Hemel goal. The home side needed to manufacture something out of nothing and it was that man Pugh that came up trumps. From a scrap on the edge of the box, his pop-shot floated into the far corner over the head of the despairing Walker.
It became a different game at 2-2, with Hemel clearly deflated after surrendering their lead. As the clock struck 90 minutes the Darts had one last throw of the dice via Collier on the right flank. His deep cross found an unmarked Pavey who only needed one chance to bury his header into the bottom right corner, triggering wild celebrations from the Darts fans and bench as well as a trademark Burman touchline sprint.
The conditions no doubt contributed to a disjointed encounter between two sides aiming to play Vanarama National League football next season and it was far from a classic. Dartford didn’t necessarily deserve a win but they found a way to pick up all three crucial points, with Havant and Waterlooville only managing a draw against Hampton and Richmond Borough.
This one-sided tie turned on Hemel’s substitutions as they never regained the grip they had on the game while the Darts dogged ‘smash and grab’ got their quest for a league title back on track.
Dartford: Schotterl; Collier, Onyemah, Bonner, Vint; Brown, Hayes (Pavey), Bradbrook ©, Noble; Ofori-Acheampong (Mills), Pugh.
Hemel Hempstead: Walker; Spence, Connolly, Parkes © (Oliyidi) Ward; Howe, Saunders, Cain (Shulton), McCall (Kaleri); Moyo, Watt,
Man of the match: Andy Pugh
Attendance: 737 brave souls!
By Henry Clark (@HenryWAClark) www.youngsportsjourno.wordpress.com
|March 17, 2018||3:00 pm||National League South||2017/18||90'|
|Grass Banks, Dartford DA1 1LZ, UK|
|Hemel Hempstead Town||2||Loss|