Darts prove no ‘stick-in-the-muds’ with dramatic added time winner
Forget Chelsea vs Tottenham, the game to be at this Easter weekend was Dartford vs Hampton & Richmond Borough at Princes Park which saw 2nd play 3rd in the race for the National League south title. Credit to the ground staff who made the pitch just about playable despite near-monsoon conditions and both captains who persuaded the referee to continue with the game in the second half with the pitch turning into a mud-bath.
The visitors were looking to bounce back from a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to 9-man Braintree where manager Alan Dowson labelled his side “hopeless”. Here at Princes Park they shaded a scrappy first half with Max Kretzschmar heading a golden chance straight at Berti Schotterl in the Dartford goal.
With the ball sticking to a waterlogged surface the Darts struggled to keep possession, a wild hit from Alex Brown the closest they managed in the first-half.
Although the hosts were camped in their own half for much of the first period, Schotterl was rarely troubled in a game where the boggy conditions meant chances were few and far between.
When Mark Onyemah lost possession near the corner flag he almost gifted a goal to the Beavers as Shaun Jeffers robbed the right-back and squared it to Kretzschmar whose effort was only thwarted by a fantastic block by Ronnie Vint.
Half-time: Dartford 0-0 Hampton & Richmond
The away side started well in the second half and had the first chance of the game through the tricky Brendan Kiernan. He broke through the Dartford defence before being hacked down by Tom Bonner who could have no complaints about being the first name in referee Josh Smith’s book.
The following free-kick summed up the quality in the final third thus far as Bradley Hudson-Odoi’s tame effort went straight at Schotterl.
The home side began to turn the screw as the half progressed but two moments involving Schotterl nearly changed the momentum of the game completely.
First, the big German came hurtling off his line with a slide that nearly took him out of his box on the greasy surface. He just managed to keep finger tips on the ball whilst the rest of his body was well outside of his box.
Then, a tame shot from Kiernan that should’ve produced a routine save stopped in the mud five yards in front of Schotterl who had already dived – but luckily he recovered quickly.
After witnessing that incident referee Smith consulted with both managers twice in as many minutes regarding the state of the pitch which continued to deteriorate in the steady rain.
Both captains were visibly eager to continue and that proved the biggest influence on the man in the middle’s decision.
The away side should’ve taken the lead against the run of play as a dangerous ball into the box from Kretzschmar left Shandon Baptiste with a golden opportunity just yards out but some heroics from the Dartford defence managed to divert the ball over.
From that moment on all the chances fell for the team in black and white; a majestic cross-field volley from man of the match Lee Noble set Andy Pugh in down the right but the striker fired over the onrushing Sonny Dieng.
The visitors, whose backroom staff include Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler, were unrecognisable from their first-half performance – quite literally when they threw on ex-Darts attacker Harry Crawford who sported a ‘Zorro mask’ due to a facial injury.
Some neat play down the left between Bonner and substitute Tom Murphy saw the later put in a fantastic cross but skipper Bradbrook’s header was expertly tipped over by Dieng.
A crowd of over 1,300 continued to spur on the hosts and just a minute into the four added on Onyemah had a great chance to secure all three points but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Added time drama
The game seemed to have gone but if we’ve learnt anything from the last home game against Hemel Hempstead it’s that Darts never quit. If there was one man you wanted the final chance of the game to fall to it was that man Pavey.
A Dieng goal-kick was headed back towards his goal and reached Pavey who expertly controlled the ball and produced a curled effort into the top left corner for his 23rd goal of the season.
Princes Park erupted with the Dartford bench racing onto the pitch to join the bundle in the mud that would have done the Darts kit man no favours.
Schotterl gave the fans a moment to remember during the celebrations when he sprinted from his goal to a particularly muddy area of the pitch in front of the dugouts and produced a majestic belly slide.
Push for the title
Ahead of a “defining weekend” Burman lauded his side’s “winning mentality” despite some far from fluent performances. Five wins in their last six games have seen a recovery on the back of a February period where they won just 6 points out of a possible 15.
With just two of the seven remaining fixtures against top half sides, Dartford will be confident they can maintain their push for the title.
Full-time: Dartford 1-0 Hampton & Richmond
Dartford: Schotterl; Collier, Vint, Bonner, Onyemah; Noble, Brown, Bradbrook ©, Pugh; Pavey, Ofori-Acheampong.
Hampton & Richmond: Dieng; Wynter, Casey ©, Long, Wassmer; McAuley, Hudson-Odoi, Baptiste, Jeffers; Kretzschmar, Kiernan.
Written by Henry Clark (@HenryWAClark)
|March 30, 2018||3:00 pm||National League South||2017/18||90'|
|Grass Banks, Dartford DA1 1LZ, UK|