Last-gasp heartbreak for Darts
Dartford made the trip to the south coast to take on Bognor Regis Town in the final fixture of the Vanarama National League south knowing their inferior goal difference to title rivals Havant and Waterlooville would require somewhat of a miracle to turn around.
Darts boss Tony Burman made two attackingly-minded changes to his line-up from last time out with the addition of Ryan Hayes and Danny Harris but the hosts nearly took an early lead as Justin Amaluzor was sent clear of the visitor’s defence. With just 3 minutes gone and Berti Schotterl in the Dartford goal to beat, the attacker chipped just wide of the German’s left post.
The pressure of finding an early goal to maintain some hope was clearly playing on the minds of the Dartford players as they struggled to break-down the Rocks’ defence and lacked precision in the final third.
The recalled Hayes nearly caught out Bognor ‘keeper Dan Lincoln with an in-swinging corner from the right but it was the visitors who then had the best chance to take the lead on 18 minutes.
Danny Mills was dispossessed in midfield and Amaluzor was allowed room to run at the Darts defence before putting in a cross from the right that was somehow turned wide at the far post by Ollie Pearce.
Two early scares should’ve been an early wake-up call for the visitors but their fragility at the back was then exposed again by Amaluzor who had another golden opportunity to put the hosts 1-0 up after Tom Bonner gave the ball away cheaply, but he fired wide of the target.
The visitors haven’t been as free-scoring in recent months as they were earlier in the campaign and had very few chances in a first-half where they lacked tempo. Top-scorer Alfie Pavey’s knock-down from a Ronnie Vint free-kick was just out of the reach of the onrushing Mills on 33 minutes.
News began to filter through that Havant had taken a 2-0 lead against Concord Rangers but not before some more good play by Amaluzor left Tommy Scutt with the best chance of the game but the midfielder flashed wide from just 6 yards out.
On the stroke of half-time Schotterl kept the game goal-less with a smart stop following a close-range header from Rocks captain Harvey White.
The away side had been far from their best but did eventually manage to force a good save from Lincoln as Elliot Bradbrook’s header from a Hayes corner was kept out by the former Reading trainee who then recovered well to help scramble clear Vint’s follow-up header.
Half-time: Bognor Regis 0-0 Dartford
There was likely to have been some harsh truths discussed in the visitors changing room at half-time but this failed to kick them into life as the visitors resumed where they left off.
Jimmy Muitt forced another smart stop from Schotterl on the 50-minute mark as the hosts were seemingly intent on spoiling the Dartford party.
Mark Onyemah nearly restored some hope as his volley from the edge of the box following a Vint knock-down flied just over the bar.
Referee David Spain then waved play-on after Muitt went down in the Dartford box under minimal contact before Mills thought he had opened the scoring for the visitors with a fine header following a Hayes cross that was only kept out by a fantastic stop from Lincoln.
That same combination finally gave the travelling contingent of Dartford fans something to shout about just before the hour mark as Mills rised highest at the back post following Hayes’ tall cross from the right to head home.
With Concord pulling one back against Havant, the Dartford fans found their voice again and urged their team forward.
Substitute Tom Murphy cut in from the left just minutes later and produced a curling effort that required a flying Lincoln to prevent the visitors doubling their lead.
The game opened up with Dartford committing men forward and Bognor keen to try and take advantage of it. It made for a contest that was thrilling on and off the pitch as Darts supporters were glued to their phones checking on results down the road at Havant.
Onyemah pulled off another good block before the Darts managed to double their lead with Hayes starring again in the build-up. His corner from the right dropped invitingly for Ronnie Vint on the edge of the area who then rifled a low effort into the left corner.
The second goal seemed to knock the wind out of the hosts and 26-goal Pavey was gifted a wonderful chance to improve the Darts’ goal difference, but he uncharacteristically fired wastefully over.
In an incredible turn of events Concord had managed to level the score at 2-2 against Havant meaning Dartford would go up as champions, sparking wild celebrations in the away end.
Nerves may have played a factor in the hosts deservedly pulling a goal back after Muitt was brought down in the box in the 85th minute. Ollie Pearce took responsibility from 12 yards out to send Schotterl the wrong way but Darts fans would hardly have noticed with their interest now relying on their rivals result.
With fate out of their own hands Dartford suffered a cruel twist of fortunes. Ex-Dart Jason Prior secured the title for Havant with a cool, last-gasp effort which broke Dartford hearts.
Full-time: Bognor Regis 1-2 Dartford
Starting the day facing an improbable task Dartford battled courageously to the end where they just fell short. To have the title snatched away at the last minute was a bitter blow with the visitors missing out on the crown by just 3 goals.
Whilst the hosts bid farewell to the league and long-serving player and coach Darin Killpartrick, the Darts have 8 days to dust themselves down and go for promotion through the play-offs for the second year running as they welcome the winner of Braintree or Hemel Hempstead to Princes Park.
Bognor Regis: Lincoln, Whyte ©, Davies, Tuck, Block, Wood, Gilot, Scutt, Amaluzor, Pearce, Muitt.
Dartford: Schotterl, Harris, Vint, Bonner, Onyemah, Hayes, Noble, Bradbrook ©, Pugh, Mills, Pavey.
Attendance: 1,017 (over 600 DFC fans)
DFC MoM: Ryan Hayes
|April 28, 2018||3:00 pm||National League South||2017/18||90'|
|Bognor Regis PO21 2UL, UK|
|Bognor Regis Town||1||Loss|