Captain Tom Bonner earned the Man of The Match award in this battle, as Dartford earned a hard-fought point against fellow play-off protagonists Oxford City in the freezing cold shadows of Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park.
Before the action got underway, the extremely sad news of the passing of long-standing supporter and servant of the club, Terry Skelton, was announced. At the sound of referee Mr Andrew Humphries’ whistle, a minute’s silence was humbly respected by the 1,018 supporters in his honour.
Whilst the love and respect was shown by everyone towards Terry and his family, there certainly wasn’t any love lost between the two sides as proceedings got underway. Yet, whilst this was an entertaining ninety minutes, clear-cut goalmouth opportunities proved few and far between as both defences refused to give an inch.
In fact, the visitors were prepared to go one step further, by taking as long as possible in order to slow the game down… tactics that began early in the first forty-five and sparked many boos and jeers from the Dartford faithful, followed by ironic cheers when “injured” players got up.
Nevertheless, Tom Bonner and Co didn’t allow the Hoops to get to them, and came close to taking the lead in the 16th minute. Tuesday night’s Man of The Match, Keiran Murtagh, was the Dartford player to receive the ball inside the Oxford box, and only a last-ditch block by a determined defender prevented him from scoring in consecutive games.
The hosts made another excellent attacking move in the 27th minute, as Luke Coulson found Alex Wall deep inside the opposition half. And, despite being pressed into the left channel, Wall was still able to get his shot off from a tight angle, but was unable to test goalkeeper Adnan Kanuric.
The Dartford striker then found himself unfairly booked by Mr Humphries following a 50/50 challenge with Lewis Miccio (31), before an excellent interception by Kanuric prevented Isaac Ogundere from collecting a wonderful ball over-the-top, which would have left him with an open goal if the goalkeeper hadn’t have been successful in his challenge.
The second-half offered much the same, as both sides cancelled each other out. Although, the visitors did actually begin creating a few opportunities themselves as early as the 46th minute.
Josh Parker was the danger man and, tried his luck from distance after noticing Ben Dudzinski off his line, only to see his effort fly wide of the post. Alfie Potter then tried his luck three minutes later, but his fierce drive failed to even test the Dartford goalkeeper.
Dartford manager Alan Dowson was the first to make a substitution. In fact, the Darts were the only side to use their substitutions on this cold afternoon, and the first took place after 59 minutes. Issac Ogundere was replaced by Malachi Napa, before Luke Allen and Pierre Fonkeu came on for Jordan Wynter and Alex Wall in the 81st minute.
Arguable, one of the moves of the game took place in the 65th minute which left Jack Smith racing towards the Hoops’ box, only to be taken out by Lewis Miccio right on the edge of the area. The Oxford player would consider himself fortunate that he wasn’t issued with his marching orders, as Mr Humphries was rather lenient in showing him a yellow card. Luke Coulson took the set-piece, but couldn’t keep his strike down unfortunately.
Jernade Meade then made an excellent block to deflect Lewis Coyle’s shot behind for a corner (68), before Alex Wall fired straight at Adnan Kanuric after great work by Malachi Napa (70).
As the game opened up slightly, Josh Ashby sent a fierce drive across the face of goal (72), before Aaron Williams-Bushell saw his effort deflected behind by Ben Dudzinski (79). The resulting corner found Josh Parker at the far post, but he sent his header the wrong side of Dudzinski’s upright, as the visitors finished the game slightly stronger.
The Darts weren’t to be denied a result though, as they remained solid in a game where neither side could break the other down.
The result sees Tom Bonner and Co remain on their current unbeaten run of games, as well as maintain a firm grip on second place in the National League South table. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Ben Dudzinski recorded a third clean sheet in four games since joining the club from Oxford City. Long may his good form continue.
DARTFORD: Ben Dudzinski, Jordan Wynter, Connor Essam, Tom Bonner (c), Luke Coulson, Alex Wall, Keiran Murtagh, Maxwell Statham, Isaac Ogundere, Jack Smith, Jernade Meade.
SUBSTITUTES: Dan Wilks, Kristian Campbell, Luke Allen, Pierre Fonkeu, Malachi Napa.
OXFORD CITY: Adnan Kanuric, Lewis Miccio, Josh Ashby, Andre Burley, Lewis Coyle, Reece Fleet (c), Zac McEachran, Josh Parker, Alfie Potter, Aaron Williams-Bushell, Canice Carroll.
SUBSTITUTES: Jack Davies, Joe Iaciofano, Jayden Carbon, Alex Grantham.
By Chris Palmer