One of four teams could end up top of the National South by the end of the weekend. Two of those sides go head to head when Dartford visit local rivals Ebbsfleet United in the North Kent derby.
After the Boxing Day fixture at Princes Park was postponed, the Darts travel to Stonebridge Road knowing a first league away win against the Fleet in 42 years will give them the upper hand over their rivals. Dartford have picked up five draws and suffered as many defeats in their previous league visits since the 1-0 victory in March 1979.
Separated by just two goals in the current National South standings, the Darts and the Fleet are part of a cluster of five teams separated by just four points. Both sides struggled against teams at the foot of the table in their last outing as they watched their other Kent rivals Maidstone United leap to second, leaving Dartford in fourth and Ebbsfleet United in third.
Steve King has made twelve changes over the last two games, seven from the heavy 4-0 league defeat in the Kent derby against Maidstone United, then a further five changes from the F.A Trophy victory over Cray Wanderers. King started with the preferred central defensive pair of Tom Bonner and Connor Essam, recalled Kieran Murtagh and Ade Azeez and gave a debut to Kalvin Kalala for the latest outing at Braintree Town.
Kalala impressed King whilst at Torquay United where he left for French fifth tier side Entente Feignies Aulnoye. The 23-year-old showed his ability against the Iron and is seen as a replacement for Emmanuel Sonupe who has moved to El Paso Locomotive in America. Excited by what the winger can bring to the team, King explained to Dartford FC TV: “He’s a fantastic player. When he was at Torquay United and they won the league two years ago he was one of the best players in the division by a country mile”.
Yet it was a substitute that saved the day on Tuesday with the last kick of the game. A stunning free-kick from Jack Jebb completed a comeback from two down to level the National South fixture as it finished 2-2. The Darts aiming for top spot against a Braintree Town side struggling at the bottom of the table saw the hosts take a two goal lead. Early in the second half Gabriel Piorkowski scored from a fine long distance effort and the lead was doubled through Gio Crichlow. Dartford were up against it and were heading for yet another defeat at Cressing Road, but Jake Robinson’s spot kick gave the Darts hope and when a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the hosts box, Jack Jebb stepped up to steal a point.
The performance was far from Dartford’s best and King acknowledged this in his post match interview with Dartford FC TV. Despite scraping a last minute draw the Darts came away disappointed as they could have gone top of the National South missing an opportunity. On the bright side, the Darts are well within a shout at this stage in the season and King believes that no one will run away with the league title in such a competitive division.
Luckily Dartford haven’t lost too much ground at the top end of the table. Their tremendous start to the season when they won seven of the opening eight games has been slowed down of late with just two victories in the next nine, during which they have struggled to break down relegation battling teams such as Braintree Town and Billericay Town. Desperate to get back on form, King commented that the North Kent derby will be yet another tough game, but whatever the result his side will not get carried away.
Ebbsfleet United also struggled against Billericay Town as they were held to a 0-0 draw over the Bank Holiday. The Fleet, returning from a Covid outbreak which led to the Boxing Day postponement against the Darts, named a side that included just two changes compared to the team that played ten days prior in the 3-0 win versus Bath City. One of those changes was former Dart, Elliott Romain dropping to the substitutes bench, but the striker featured in both fixtures scoring a brace against Bath City. Whilst with the Darts Romain managed to score 16 goals in 45 appearances and is highly rated by manager Fleet Dennis Kutrieb. However, it was Billericay Town’s goalkeeper Rhys Lovett, a recent signing from Maidenhead United, who earned praise on Tuesday for his outstanding performance in keeping the Fleet out.
Manager Dennis Kutrieb explained that the isolation period was far from ideal as he’d prefer his team to be playing rather than having games postponed. After a ‘rusty’ first half performance at home to Billericay Town which the manager put down to the isolation period his side did improve but disappointingly failed to take all three points. The Fleet boss cited that one day of training made things difficult to get ready for their last match and welcomes the time he now has in the build up to Sunday’s derby, he told BBC Radio Kent: “We can recover and prepare, but at least we have five more days and we should look better. I’m looking forward to the game because it’s a great game…for everyone, for us, for Dartford, for the fans”.
Head to Head
Dartford wins: 66 / Ebbsfleet United wins: 55 / Draws: 33
Current League Form
|Braintree Town||A||2-2||Billericay Town||H||0-0|
|Maidstone United||A||0-4||Bath City||H||3-0|
|Billericay Town||H||1-0||Concord Rangers||H||2-1|
|Hemel Hempstead Town||A||3-2||Dulwich Hamlet||A||2-5|
|Oxford City||H||0-0||Oxford City||A||0-1|
|Chippenham Town||H||3-3||Maidstone United||A||2-3|
Previous Meetings (last six)
Dartford 0 – 0 Ebbsfleet United (02/01/2021 – National South)
Ebbsfleet United 1 – 0 Dartford (01/01/2017 – National South)
Dartford 2 – 1 Ebbsfleet United (26/12/2016 – National South)
Ebbsfleet United 1 – 1 Dartford (28/03/2016 – National South)
Dartford 0 – 1 Ebbsfleet United (31/08/2015 – National South)
Dartford 1 – 0 Ebbsfleet United (29/10/2013 – F.A Cup)
- Dartford last beat Ebbsfleet United as the away team at Stonebridge Road in 1989 during a Kent Senior Cup tie which ended 2-0.
- Ebbsfleet United are 11 unbeaten in all competitions as the home side in this fixture
- The 0-0 draw in January was Dartford’s first league clean sheet against the Fleet since the 5-0 New Years Day victory in 1992
On This Day
Dartford are unbeaten in 14 games on this day stretching back to 1954. The Darts have drawn their last two, 0-0 with Ebbsfleet United at the start of 2021 and 1-1 against Chelmsford City in 2016, Tom Bradbrook scoring a 94th minute equaliser. Danny Harris netted the winning goal in 2012 as the Darts beat Welling United 1-0 and in 2010, Lee Burns and James White were on hand in a 2-1 triumph over Cray Wanderers. Other Kent derby fixtures on this day include draws with Sittingbourne (2006) and Dover Athletic (1989) and a 2-1 victory against Maidstone United in 1982. So the unbeaten run includes eight wins and six draws since the Darts last lost on this day, a 9-2 hammering against Llanelly in the Southern League.