Dartford have promotion to the National league in their sights when they take on Weymouth in the National South Playoff Final at the Bob Lucas Stadium this Saturday.
The Darts have already made it through two rounds beating Slough Town in the elimination round then favourites Havant and Waterlooville in the semi-final last weekend. In both playoff matches, Steve King has relied on the depth of his squad as crucial changes have influenced the outcomes.
At Slough Town, a few alterations to the team and tactics as well as the half-time team talk improved Dartford’s performance. King told his players to be braver on the ball and when Charlie Sheringham scored a brace, he justified King’s decision to select him after being out of the squad before lockdown. A third goal was added by substitute Luke Wanadio to secure a 3-0 victory.
Another away game followed and this time it was Ky Marsh Brown’s turn to star against league runners up Havant and Waterlooville. The Darts went a goal down when Danny Kedwell’s was finished by Jonah Ayunga. Then two moments changed the game, first Josh Taylor was red carded for the Hawks late in the first half, then the Darts introduced Ky Marsh-Brown early in the second-half. Marsh-Brown set up Darren McQueen for the equaliser, then he won a penalty which McQueen scored sending the Darts into the final.
Steve King was on the receiving end of last season’s final when Welling United were beaten by Woking. Now he has the chance to return Dartford back to the National League after a five-year absence. This time he believes his side have a free hit and victory will complete a ‘miracle season’ after he steered the club from a relegation battle in October to promotion contenders. King told www.kentonline.co.uk that promotion would: “mean everything…It will be my fourth (play-off) final in National South. Just to go one step further when we have not been expected to would be the icing on the cake, really. We were fourth-bottom (when King took charge), there looked like there was a chance that we would get relegated. I’m just taking it in my stride, really. It’s just another game”.
After the win at Havant and Waterlooville, the Dartford boss praised his squads team ethic, he commented: “The group have done ever so well. They have been magnificent ever since we came through the door to have done what they have as a group”, he added: “We have had to change sides and I changed it at half-time (on Saturday). The boys who came off were disappointed, but they offered their support and they were shouting and hugging at the end and it has been a real team effort, whether they have started or not started”.
Weymouth will host the final having finished higher than Dartford in the National South and are looking to return to the National League after eleven years. The Terras ended the campaign in a respectable third place having only won promotion as champions of the Southern League Premier South last season. King knows that Saturday’s opposition will be difficult, he commented: “It will be tough, they play good football. They are quite a young side. Some of their players are on loan from Bournemouth. It’s going to be really tough, but we will give it one last go”.
Weymouth earned a place in the final after a dramatic finish in the semi-final against Dorking Wanderers. Yemi Odubade scored a last-minute winner to seal a 3-2 win after the home side threw away a two-goal lead. Mark Molesley’s side took the lead from the spot through captain Josh McQuoid, then Jaidon Anthony scored another to put Weymouth two up. Dorking fought back and with 17 minutes to go pulled a goal back through James McShane, and with five left on the clock Eliott Buchanan equalised. It looked as if the semi-final was heading for penalties until Odubade netted in stoppage time to send the Terras into the final.
Manager, Molesley praised his youngsters after the game, he told www.bournemouthecho.co.uk: “You’ve got to remember the average age of that squad (against Dorking Wanderers) was under 24. You forget about how young our team is. Fortunately, we’ve got some good, older, experienced players as well like Stephane Zubar, Yemi Odubade and Josh McQuoid, who have been there done it and seen it. The younger players can be buoyed that they have got some experience around them as well. But they have played maturely beyond their years and they have all season”.
Dartford’s last visit to the Bob Lucas Stadium ended in a 3-1 defeat back in August when Adam Flanagan and Jamie Coyle were in charge. The return fixture was due to take place on the final day of the season; however, the campaign was cut short. Abdulai Baggie opened the scoring and Brett Williams added two more before Norman Wabo scored a last-minute consolation for the Darts.