Dartford travelled to Wiltshire on a breezy Saturday afternoon, where they faced a struggling Chippenham Town side at Hardenhuish Park.
With the hosts having not won in seven games, Steve King’s Darts arrived as favourites for the three points, having only lost once in the previous eight outings. And the confidence of the Dartford team clearly showed, as they demolished a fragile Chippenham defence with five first half goals in an entertaining match.
Influential midfielder Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong returned to his parent club mid-week, so Steve King was quick to bolster the midfield with the signing of Giovanni McGregor from Crystal Palace. The highly rated twenty-one year old attacking midfielder will remain with the Darts until the end of the season, but wasn’t available for today’s game. However, Armit Bansal-McNulty has also signed on an initial one-month’s loan from QPR, and was available. The nineteen year old midfielder slotted straight into the starting eleven alongside Billy Crook and Tyrique Hyde. The only other change in personnel from last weekend’s victory over Dulwich Hamlet was the addition of Liam Nash, who replaced Luke Wanadio.
After a rather slow start to the game with both sides creating opportunities, yet neither goalkeeper seriously tested, the game exploded into life in the sixteenth minute. A terrific break resulted in Bansal-McNulty bursting through on the left side, only to be brought down in the box. Referee Paul
Johnson awarded the penalty and Darren McQueen took on the responsibility, tucking the ball beyond goalkeeper Will Puddy to give the visitors the lead.
Minutes later saw Liam Nash get in on the action, as he timed his run to perfection to get on the end of a terrific low pass across the face of goal and score his first goal since joining the Darts. However, the hosts replied with their next attack when George Rigg played a good through ball to Callum Gunner. The latter caught the Dartford defence napping and was able to slot the ball beyond Alhaji Sesay.
What should have been the trigger to launch a Chippenham comeback, proved to be the opposite, as the host’s defence collapsed in spectacular fashion as Dartford crushed it with a blitz of attacking football.
Dartford’s third goal arrived in the 25th minute when the Chippenham defence couldn’t deal with the powerful Dartford attack. As the visitors pushed forward with confidence, they attacked the box and the ball was sent into the danger area only for a hapless defender to put it into his own net. A few minutes later saw the hosts commit a foul in a dangerous position to the right side of Puddy’s penalty area. Up stepped Bansal-McNulty to fire the free kick straight through the wall and into the
bottom corner to make it 4-1.
As we reached the 40th minute, another Dartford attack resulted in another series of shambolic defending and another penalty awarded in the visitor’s favour. Up stepped McQueen for a second time to send the ball past Puddy to score his sixteenth goal of the season and stretch his side’s lead to 5-1.
The second half was a much more even affair as Chippenham tried to make a contest of it. They were quick out of the blocks and tried to push more bodies forward, but Tom Bonner’s defence soaked up the pressure and held firm. When the hosts did manage to get through and beat Sesay
with an effort from David Pratt in the 66th minute, it was ruled out for offside.
At the other end, a terrific ball from Bansal-McNulty found McQueen through, but his effort was saved by Puddy before another attack saw Nash cross a terrific ball towards Elliott Romain.
Unfortunately, his flicked header was well saved again by Puddy, who was certainly keeping the scoreline a little respectable.
Before that disallowed goal in the 66th minute, however, we were witness to some questionable decisions from referee Paul Johnson. As temperatures began to boil over on the pitch, it was Mr Johnson who appeared to be the one to lose control and the respect of some supporters. Firstly, he handed a yellow card to a Chippenham player for an extremely late and high challenge on Bansal-McNulty, which surely should have been a red. Seconds later, Bansal-McNulty received two yellows during the confusion after what appeared to be a rather harmless challenge, which bewildered many. To add insult to injury, the referee then gave Steve King his marching orders as
Once everyone had caught their breath, Dartford reacted quickly to being a man down by replacing Darren McQueen with Lee Noble. The visitors more-or-less restricted Chippenham to a handful of long-range efforts, yet when the hosts did create an opening, Sesay was equal to them and saved
well on a couple of occasions.
With time running out, the Darts made use of the remaining substitutions by replacing Craig Braham-Barrett with Nick Arnold and then Liam Nash with Charlie Sheringham. However, it was the referee who insisted on having the final say in stoppage time, as he decided to send off a member of Chippenham’s coaching staff to more disbelief from the supporters.
Despite those decisions leaving a rather sour taste in the mouth after the game, nothing can take away another excellent performance from Steve King’s Darts. They played some terrific football, especially in the first forty-five, and were once again prepared to dig deep when the opposition
eventually got to grips in the second half. The victory keeps Dartford in the playoffs, as they leapfrog Dorking Wanderers into sixth place and are now just six points away from second.
CHIPPENHAM TOWN: Puddy, Tyler, Foulston, McDonald, Parselle ©, Russe, Gunner, Rigg, Zebroski, Twine, David.
SUBSTITUTES: Haines, Chambers, Case, Hopper, Thompson.
DARTFORD: Sesay, Ming, Braham-Barrett, Bansal-McNulty, Hill, Bonner ©, Crook, Hyde, Romain, McQueen, Nash.
SUBSTITUTES: Vint, Noble, Arnold, Sheringham, Wanadio.