High expectations have been set for Dartford as they start their National South campaign at home to Hungerford Town this weekend.
A third place finish last term has put the Darts amongst the favourites to challenge for the title and to return to the National League after a three-year absence. One of last season’s surprise packages, Hungerford Town will be the first obstacle to overcome as the Darts hope to get off the mark.
Dartford enjoyed success at Princes Park towards the end of the regular season last term, but seek their first win on the opening day since 2013. Leading up to the playoff semi-final defeat, the Darts won six in a row at home scoring 22 times in the process.
With much of the squad retained the capability to succeed is certainly at Burman’s disposal. Winger, Lyle Della-Verde could make his competitive debut in a Darts shirt and defender, Mark Onyemah may start his first competitive game since returning to the club. The pair replace Bromley winger Luke Wanadio who netted 13 times for the Darts last campaign and the versatile Tom Wynter, who joined relegated Margate.
Also in line for a debut is striker Warren Mfula, scorer of three goals this summer he has taken the step up three divisions from the Southern Counties East. The striker found the net an impressive 44 times last season and Burman believes Mfula’s positive attitude to develop is worth the gamble. The Darts have been without Duane Ofori-Acheampong for a second pre-season running, the striker will miss the start of the new season. Fellow striker, Andy Pugh missed the last two friendly matches due to a heel problem.
Hungerford Town were in touching distance of reaching the playoffs in their first ever season at National South level. Due to ground regulations, the Berkshire club were unable to participate but they still finished in a respectable sixth place.
The Crusaders have already played one competitive fixture, the final of the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup final against National South champions Maidenhead United. Although Hungerford Town were beaten 1-0, the rest of their preparations for the forthcoming campaign has seen them win seven out of their eight friendly games.
One addition to Bobby Wilkinson’s squad is Luke Hopper from Gloucester City. The striker played for the Crusaders before and top scored with his former club last term. Wilkinson, who starts his seventh year as Hungerford Town boss has also brought in the likes of Paul Stonehouse from Slough Town, Callum Willmoth from Newbury and central defender Matt Partridge from Basingstoke Town.
The corresponding fixture last campaign hit national headlines as the Darts ran out 2-0 winners. With the first ever match between the two sides poised, an unlikely scorer turned out to be the game changer. Awarded a free kick inside their own half, Dartford’s number one, Deren Ibrahim hit a long ball which sailed over George Legg in the Hungerford Town goal. The match was settled with two minutes left when Alex Brown’s controlled finish secured the three points. The Crusaders avenged defeat in April by also winning 2-0 on home soil, with goals from Louie Soares and Stefan Brown.
Head to Head
Dartford wins: 1 / Hungerford Town wins: 1 / Draws: 0
Dartford have won just one of their last five opening day fixtures and two of their last seven at Princes Park on match day one.
The ‘core’ players left in the Darts squad, Elliot Bradbrook, Danny Harris, Ryan Hayes and Lee Noble will start this season with a combined 1648 Dartford appearances under their belt and 334 goals.
As well as ‘the core’, Tom Bonner (214 appearances), Deren Ibrahim (130) and Andy Pugh (121) have all represented the Darts over 100 times. Ronnie Vint looks set to be the next one in line, the defender has made 84 appearances for the club, just 16 to go!
DATE: Saturday 5th August 2017
VENUE: Princes Park, Grassbanks, Dartford, Kent, DA1 1RT
KICK OFF: 3:00pm
TURNSTILES: Open from 12:30pm
Adults: £14, Concessions £7, Youth ( 13-17) £5, Children:£2, Under 5’s FREE
SEATING: Seating is available on a first come first served basis in certain areas of the stadium.
FACILITIES: Bar and food open from 12:30pm
PARKING: Parking is free of charge in the clubs car park but is a first come first served basis.
MATCH UPDATES: Available on Twitter @dartfordfc and on website www.dartfordfc.com
MATCH SPONSOR: JPS Clarity – For more information on our away shirt sponsor and their company please click HERE