After months of silence during these strange times, Princes Park finally bounced with the good vibrations of the Dartford faithful on a cool Tuesday evening, as the Darts hosted National League side Dover Athletic.
With the pre-season friendly being chosen to be a pilot game in order to test the return of spectators, seeing and hearing fans again was an absolute pleasure, as 521 were present to witness another good performance from their team, which was held by a rather fortunate Dover side.
Steve King announced two trialists in his starting eleven, who were joined by Wynter, Braham-Barrett, Ijaha, Vint, Essam, Modeste, Sheringham, Berkeley-Agyepong, and Marsh-Brown.
A lively first half saw both sides creating opportunities, as the game opened with good attacking football. The visitors thought they’d taken the lead twice in the opening nine minutes, but thankfully both were ruled out by the referee. Meanwhile, in between those chances, Dartford carved open an
opportunity of their own, as Modeste sent an effort high and wide in the seventh minute.
Once the game reached the quarter-hour mark, Dartford appeared to settle defensively and began to keep the Dover attack under control more. While Vint and Co produced some solid defending, Marsh-Brown and Co were doing their best to carve open the Dover defence at the other end. And in
the 24th minute, the tricky winger drove a terrific ball across the face of the goal, but it was just out of reach of his teammates.
Four minutes later saw a brilliant Dartford attack, as Modeste and Sheringham combined well, with the latter setting up Marsh-Brown perfectly on the edge of Dover’s box. Unfortunately, Marsh-Brown’s effort smashed off the crossbar, before Sheringham would be presented with an
opportunity himself ten minutes later. However, the big striker was unable to find the target.
With the visitors trying to slow the tempo and see out the first-half, they were almost undone by the tenacity of the excellent Marsh-Brown. He picked the pocket of the defence, fed a delightful ball towards Sheringham, who then pulled the trigger. Sadly, Bexon was equal to it, making the save, yet failing to keep the ball safe. The Darts recovered, Sheringham had a second bite of the cherry, only to find Bexon in the way again!
Dover were found wanting during the opening exchanges of the second forty-five, as they just couldn’t contain Marsh-Brown. Wearing the white and black number 11, the winger was tearing along the left flank, as he terrorised the defence. He breached it again on 51 minutes, sprinting by
his marker, before sending in another delightful curling cross. The ball found Modeste, but his header flew over the crossbar.
Five minutes later saw Ijaha have a go, as he drove forward powerfully, before sending a shot just wide of the upright. The visitors were on the ropes, and the Darts smelled blood, as Marsh-Brown carved open the defence with some beautiful skill, before sending a curling effort just wide on the hour.
Trying desperately to gain control of the game, a Dover trialist lost his head and flew into a Dartford trialist with a crunching tackle (62). The guilty party would be sent off three minutes later, and with his player receiving treatment, Steve King decided to make his first round of substitutions. The
injured party left the field, together with the other trialist, Braham-Barrett, Essam, Vint, and Wynter, to be replaced with King, Barnum-Bobb, Hill, Bonner, and another trialist.
The second round would take place in the 70th minute, as Berkeley-Agyepong, Ijaha, Marsh-Brown, Modeste, Sheringham, and a trialist made way for Allen, Romain, and a further four trialists.
However, three minutes previous should have seen the hosts take the lead. Plowing forward, the ball found Barnum-Bobb inside the six-yard box. He shot, only for Bexon to save! The ball ricocheted towards Sheringham, who also fired from close range… But the Dover goalkeeper saved again to
keep his team in the match!
Then, with twenty minutes remaining, this entertaining game gave the fans the goal it deserved. And it was Elliott Romain who stepped up to the plate, merely seconds after entering the field. With the defence breached, this time on the right side, the Darts got into the box and fed a delightful ball into the path of Romain. He struck it sweetly, sending it sailing into the back of the net.
This sparked the visitors into life, and they managed to equalise nine minutes later via one of their trialists. As they grew in confidence, they were almost undone by a Luke Allen special with 85 on the clock. Unfortunately, his pyledriver from just inside the box ricocheted off the crossbar!
And so a thoroughly entertaining game, which Dartford deserved to win, ended all square. However, the accolades must go to all the Dartford staff, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in order to enable this pilot game to go ahead.
By Chris Palmer