Dartford are two games away from a playoff final and potential promotion to the National League, but standing in their way will be Chelmsford City.
The Darts snatched a home second leg advantage away from the Clarets on the weekend to finish the campaign in third. Tony Burman’s side travelled to the Dorset coast and after Andy Pugh’s ninth minute tap in looked to be on course. However, Poole Town came from behind with a headed goal by Marvin Brooks and a second from Steve Devlin before half time.
Meanwhile, Hungerford Town went in at the break level with Chelmsford City and the league standing unchanged between the Darts and the Clarets. Rod Stringer’s Chelmsford City took lead through Josh Rees but with nine minutes remaining Hungerford Town’s Louie Soares levelled. Still in third place the Essex side looked set to finish in third.
Then injury time on the Jurassic Coast created plenty of drama, Tom Murphy hooked the ball over his head from close range to put Dartford level at 2-2. The biggest twist came six minutes into stoppage time when Lee Noble lashed home a winner giving the Darts a very late 3-2 victory.
If the Darts and the Clarets are not sick of the sight of each other, they probably will be by the end of the second leg on May 7th. They have already met four times this term with home advantage counting for nothing. Dartford drew and won when they visited the Melbourne Community Stadium, whilst Chelmsford City recorded two victories at Princes Park.
The first fixture between the clubs came back in the opening month of the campaign. Luke Wanadio headed Dartford ahead just before the hour but the lead didn’t last long. Shaun Jeffers, the Clarets top scorer in the National South this season with 21 goals, put the Essex side level eleven minutes later.
Drawn together in the F.A Cup, Dartford returned to the Melbourne Community Stadium in an intriguing cup tie. On a windy September afternoon, the weather was influential on the outcome with the Darts racing into a three goal lead before half-time. Goalkeeper, Ross Fitzsimons scored an unfortunate own goal early on and Elliot Bradbrook’s penalty and second goal five minutes later, put the Darts in a commanding position at the break. Chelmsford City fought back with two Shamir Mullings headers in two minutes to set up a tense finish, but the Darts held on to a 3-2 victory.
Fate would pair the two together again in the F.A Trophy second round at Princes Park. The meeting in January turned when midfielder Alex Brown’s reckless challenge left Dartford a man short. Chelmsford City eventually took advantage when Chris Dickson’s far post finish secured a 1-0 victory for the away team. A month later, the Clarets repeated the same scoreline in the National South, this time Anthony Church’s deflected effort found the net to earn the Essex club three points.
Whilst Dartford are aiming for a return to the National League after a two year absence, Chelmsford City have never reached those heights but do have plenty of Playoff experience. The Clarets reached the Playoffs four times in five years between 2009 and 2013 and lost at the first hurdle on each occasion. They also lost out in an Isthmian Premier League Playoff semi-final back in 2007. Meanwhile, the Darts only Playoff campaign was a successful one five years ago, earning them promotion to the National League when they beat Basingstoke Town and Welling United.
Dartford boss, Tony Burman stated that getting his club to the Playoffs this term was amongst his greatest achievement for the club. Although he led the Darts to promotion five years ago to the National League he feels this time round it’s a bigger deal considering the budget available compared to others in the division. One thing Burman does have going is previous playoff experience within his squad. Elliot Bradbrook, Tom Bonner, Lee Noble, Danny Harris and Ryan Hayes were all part of the winning side five years ago.
Chelmsford City will have some former Darts hoping to prove a point with Max Cornhill in midfield, Josh Hill in defence and Luke Daley on the wing. The Clarets also have an array of attacking options such as Shaun Jeffers, Chris Dickson, Louie Theophanous, Elliott Buchanan, Robbie Willmott and Anthony Church.
Head to Head
Chelmsford City wins: 52 / Dartford wins: 36 / Draws: 90
Current League Form
Chelmsford City (DWWLWW)
Drew 1-1 v Hungerford Town (A)
Won 3-1 v Bath City (H)
Won 3-1 v Welling United (H)
Lost 0-2 v Oxford City (A)
Won 3-0 v Poole Town (H)
Won 2-0 v Hampton and Richmond (A)
Won 3-2 v Poole Town (A)
Won 4-0 v Bishop’s Strotford (H)
Won 3-1 v Hampton and Richmond (H)
Lost 0-2 v Hungerford Town (A)
Won 4-3 v Eastbourne Borough (H)
Drew 2-2 v Hemel Hempstead Town (A)
Meetings This Season
Dartford 0 Chelmsford City 1 (18/02/2017 – National South)
Dartford 0 Chelmsford City 1 (14/01/2017 – F.A Trophy)
Chelmsford City 2 Dartford 3 (17/09/2016 – F.A Cup)
Chelmsford City 1 Dartford 1 (13/08/2016 – National South)
The home side in this fixture last won on 3 January 2010 when Chelmsford City triumphed 2-0 in the National South. Since then there has been four away wins (two by each club) and four draws.
Dartford are unbeaten in four at the Melbourne Community Stadium but have won just twice in the last eight there.
Not only did the Darts finish third and the Clarets fourth in the league, they also ended in the same positions for average attendances this term. Dartford averaged 997 over their 21 home games compared to Chelmsford City’s 912.
On This Day
It’s been twenty years since Dartford scored on 3 May at home to Cirencester Town in the Southern League Southern Division. The Darts went on to win 4-2 as they finished their campaign in 14th place. Only two more games have played since, a 0-0 draw at home to St Leonards three years later and a 2-0 loss twelve months on away to Witney Town, in the Southern League Eastern Division