Dartford returned from Wiltshire sitting at the summit of the National League South, after goals from debutant Moussa Bakayoko and Captain Tom Bonner earned them a valuable three points at Hardenhuish Park.
The Darts had to work hard for their victory this evening, however, as a positive Chippenham Town side threatened to derail the visitor’s momentum in an entertaining first half.
As Dartford got the ball rolling at the start, you’d be forgiven for believing that the hosts had remained in their dressing room, such was Steve King’s side’s dominance during the opening ten minutes. And they almost took the lead within three, when influential midfielder Jack Jebb connected with a loose ball, only to fire straight into the arms of goalkeeper Will Puddy.
Five minutes later saw the visitors take the lead after a dangerous cross by Jazzi Barnum-Bobb curled into the Bluebirds’ penalty area. In amongst the melee of bodies was debutant Moussa Bakayoko to stab the ball over the line. The former Derry City striker then ran to the Dartford dugout to celebrate delightfully with his new manager.
The goal woke Chippenham Town up, and the hosts began to grow in confidence as the first half progressed. Looking threatening in dead-ball situations, the Bluebirds began to assert their authority on a Dartford defence that was looking uncharacteristically vulnerable the longer the half continued. Yet it would take until the 18th minute for Chippenham to register their first attempt on target, as Jordan Dyer forced Craig King into a fine save with a well-struck effort.
As the hosts attacked, Dartford continued to take risks by giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions. And such a risk led to Chippenham getting back into the game with 20 minutes on the clock. Another free-kick was delivered into the penalty area perfectly by Ross Stearn (who was proving to be a constant threat with set-pieces), whereby Joe Hanks was able to stab the ball beyond King to pull the score level at 1-1.
The Bluebirds must have felt they were in control at this point, but didn’t really threaten Craig King’s goal, despite his defenders struggling to get control of the game. Yet, as was expected, attack swiftly turned into drastic scurrying back, as the Darts counter-attacked with pace via Jack Barham, who put Puddy under pressure to force a mistake. The resulting corner was delivered into the box, eventually falling to Barham, who put the ball beyond Puddy. Unfortunately, the referee decided otherwise and what would have been a debut goal for the striker on only his second start, was subsequently chalked off.
With half-time looming, the game opened up and the Darts began to finish the half as the stronger of the teams. A super long free-kick from King found Noor Husin, who struck the ball fiercely towards goal (45). The ball appeared to strike the hand of a Chippenham player, but the referee wasn’t convinced. At the other end, Tom Bonner received a yellow card for a late and heavy challenge (36), before the resulting free-kick forced King into an excellent save to keep the score level at the break.
The second forty-five started slowly and it appeared that the hosts were satisfied with a point, as time-wasting tactics were in operation! Such matters didn’t deter Dartford, though, as they set about growing back into the game and were showing more signs of positive play as we approached the hour. As the referee awarded the visitors a free-kick deep in the Chippenham half, Jack Jebb sought out Bonner, who wasn’t too shabby in the technique department himself, sending a delightful ball across the face of goal. Unfortunately, Chippenham managed to clear on this occasion.
With the fire fully ignited now, the Dartford engine room was beginning to string some good moves together, as Jebb, Berkeley-Agyepong, and Husin set about carving out opportunities. And it was two of those who combined to set up Bonner following a free-kick in the 63rd minute. Jebb took the
set-piece, found Berkeley-Agyepong, who then found Ronnie Vint. The latter headed a peach of a ball across the box to Bonner, who struck a great effort just wide of Puddy’s upright.
A minute previously saw Steve King make his first of three substitutions, as Bakayoko was replaced by Elliott Romain. The other changes worth mentioning were David Ijaha replacing Jebb (73) and Connor Essam coming on for Berkeley-Agyepong (82). Before such matters, however, Husin would force a fabulous block from a Chippenham defender in the 69th minute, which forced a corner. And Berkeley-Agyepong would then set up Bonner perfectly, only to see the Dartford Captain send his effort just wide of the post again (70)!
Tom Bonner was determined to get on the scoresheet this evening, however, and was duly rewarded with ten minutes remaining. The opportunity arose after another excellent driving run from Jack Barham, who earned his side a corner. The corner was whipped into the danger area and there was Bonner to send the ball into the back of the net!
Now 2-1 behind, Chippenham were surely rueing their previous time-wasting tactics, and were now desperately trying to get themselves level a second time. Their efforts would be in vain, though, as the Darts stepped up a level to defend their lead resolutely. Special mention must go to Jordan Wynter, who was calm and collected throughout the majority of the game. Acting as the anchor between the defence and midfield, the versatile #4 cut out several Chippenham attacks, before feeding the ball to the Dartford midfield and/or fullbacks, who were equally as threatening.
And so the Darts remain unbeaten and sitting at the top of the league with ten points. They will be entertaining Havant & Waterlooville next, as Tom Bonner and Co will be intent on building on another good performance, while keeping this excellent run going.
CHIPPENHAM: Will Puddy, Eddie Jones, Noah Smerdon, Jordan Dyer, Kieran Parselle, Luke Russe, Kieran Phillips, Joe Hanks, Chris Zebroski, Brad Ash, Ross Stearn.
SUBSTITUTES: Spencer Hamilton, Alex Bray, Ryan Case, Smedley, Hughes.
DARTFORD: Craig King, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Craig Braham-Barrett, Jordan Wynter, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner ©, Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong, Noor Husin, Jack Barham, Moussa Bakayoko, Jack Jebb.
SUBSTITUTES: Josh Hill, David Ijaha, Gavin McCallum, Elliott Romain, Connor Essam.