Dartford’s grip at the top of the National League South looks threatened, as an unbeaten St Albans City side took all three points at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park, courtesy of a Shaun Jeffers thunderbolt in the last minute of an entertaining game.
There was an air of sadness around the empty stadium before kick-off, as a minute’s silence occurred in honour of lifelong fan and shareholder, John Hoverd, who sadly passed away recently. Yet, his spirit would surely have been there to witness proceedings, as St Albans got the game underway. And he would have been proud, as his beloved Darts created the first meaningful opportunity as early as the second minute. A free-kick was awarded, which Jack Jebb swung into the path of Tom Bonner. Sadly, the Captain was unable to find the target, sending the ball just wide of Michael Johnson’s upright instead.
This seemed to be the order of the day, as the Darts seemed to struggle in the final third. Noor Husin tried his luck after receiving a terrific ball from the impressive Gavin McCallum in the tenth minute, but fired straight at Johnson. With the goalkeeper unable to control the save, the ball fell to Elliott Romain in the box, but he was caught offside, and so another opportunity came to nothing. Five minutes later saw Charlie Sheringham force a superb save from the goalkeeper, who was proving to be alert between the posts.
At the other end, Shaun Jeffers and Zane Banton were proving to be a real handful, as they caused no end of problems for Tom Bonner and Co. In fact, Jeffers forced Craig King into action as early as the sixth minute, when his free-kick went straight through, forcing the Dartford number one into a save. The goalkeeper would be called into action again when Banton was allowed to get a shot away (23), only this time King couldn’t hold it and relied on his defenders to clear the danger instead.
Meanwhile, Jebb was opening up the field at the other end, and sent a wonderfully chipped ball over the top towards Jazzi Barnum-Bobb in the 36th minute. Unfortunately, the latter could only manage to send the ball behind for a goal-kick. The hosts should possibly have got their noses in front six minutes later, after Sheringham’s hard work forced Joy Mukena into a blatant handball to prevent the striker’s progress. Jebb sent the free-kick into the penalty area, but the expected header was easily collected by Johnson.
As half-time approached, both sides should have taken the lead. First up were the visitors, as Jeffers capped an excellent move with an equally excellent shot on the Dartford goal. Thankfully, King was there to save in style (45). Then it was the host’s turn, as the excellent Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong collected the ball, ploughed forward, cut inside and got himself into the perfect position.
Unfortunately, his shot was a little on the weak side and straight at Johnson.
The second forty-five saw the hosts become more dominant and controlled in possession, as they searched for the opener. Sheringham would be on the receiving end of a superb long ball from Husin, and he would chest the ball down brilliantly… but his shot afterwards would sail high over the top in the 49th minute. More outstanding play from the Darts saw Berkeley-Agyepong drive forward into the box, as he used his strength to hold off any challenges from his markers. He squared a
perfect ball to Husin, but the latter just couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball enough to pose any real threat (57). Romain tried his luck from distance a minute later, but sent his shot sailing over the crossbar as well.
With sixty minutes on the clock, Craig King was called into action to save a long-range effort with ease, before the Darts’ pressure finally paid off a minute later… or so it would seem… The move came as Husin (who would be replaced by Luke Allen in the 78th minute) was body-checked in the St Albans penalty area after a long throw caused mayhem for the defenders. The referee awarded the penalty and, after the visitors had advised the man in charge of their displeasure somewhat forcibly, upstepped Sheringham to take the spot-kick. Unfortunately, he struck the ball high enough for Johnson to make the save (63).
Steve King decided to change his attacking options five minutes later, as Jack Barham replaced Elliott Romain and the returning Alfie Pavey (on loan from Barnet) came on for his second spell at the club to replace Sheringham. And it was a substitution that should have made an immediate impact on the scoreline, as Barham bombed down the left-flank and sent in a beautiful cross, only to see the ball cleared by the defence (69). It was Pavey’s turn two minutes later, as he caught a defender napping, nicked the ball, raced away and sent an absolute peach of a ball into the box. To his dismay, however, Johnson just managed to reach the ball before the on-rushing Barham was able to.
The visitors had been relatively quiet during the second half, but they appeared to spark into life from the 73rd minute onwards. Their resurgence began once Shaun Jeffers got onto the end of a dangerous cross inside the Dartford box. With King beaten, the striker sent his effort smashing off the crossbar, whereby Tom Bonner picked up the pieces and cleared the danger. The lively Jeffers would try his luck a second time two minutes later, but this time he sent his effort whizzing just wide of King’s upright! However, it would prove to be third time lucky for Jeffers, as he was allowed a little too much space in the 89th minute… Approximately 35 yards from goal, the striker sent a thunderous long-range effort towards the Dartford goal. Leaving Craig King with no chance, the ball cannoned off of the crossbar and bounced over the line and into the back of the net, thus stunning Steve King and knocking the wind out of his players.
With little time to respond, Dartford just couldn’t get back into the game, as St Albans closed ranks and frustrated the hosts. Ironically, Dartford might have taken the lead themselves ten minutes previously, after superb work by Gavin McCallum resulted in the left-back playing in Jack Barham with a great ball into the St Albans box. Once again, however, the Darts failed to make their opportunities count, as Barham headed the ball wide of the post.
On another night, the result could have swung in Dartford’s favour. However (and taking nothing away from the visitors, who deserved the victory tonight), missed opportunities in the final third proved too costly for Steve King’s Darts once again, as they fell to a second consecutive defeat at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park. One wonders when their luck will change in front of the Princes Park goals…
DARTFORD: Craig King, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Gavin McCallum, Jordan Wynter, Connor Essam, Tom Bonner ©, Noor Husin, Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong, Elliott Romain, Charlie Sheringham, Jack Jebb. SUBSTITUTES: Jack Barham, Josh Hill, Luke Allen, Ky Marsh-Brown, Alfie Pavey.
ST ALBANS CITY: Michael Johnson, Tom Bender ©, Kyran Wiltshere, James Kaloczi, Michael Clark, Shaun Jeffers, Zane Banton, Dave Diedhiou, Mitchell Weiss, Munashe Sundire, Joy Mukena.
SUBSTITUTES: Romeo Akinola, Devante Stanley, Chid Onokwai, David Noble, Joseph Chidyausiku.
By Chris Palmer