Dartford’s unbeaten run stretched to five games, as a Jack Barham brace inflicted defeat upon Havant & Waterlooville at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park.
This was a game of two-halves in every sense of the word, yet it was the second-half that provided a little more entertainment. More about that later, though, because the first forty-five served up a tactical stalemate predominantly played in the centre of the park.
The game started slowly, as both sides fought tooth and nail for dominance in a packed midfield. It was the hosts who prevailed, however, as they restricted Havant & Waterlooville to hardly any clear-cut opportunities. In fact, it was the Darts who broke through with the best opportunity after 14 minutes, when Noor Husin and Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong combined well to open up the Havant defence. The latter slotted Jack Barham through on goal, but goalkeeper Ross Worner managed to reach the ball before the Dartford striker.
Twelve minutes later saw the Hawks’ defence breached for the second time, as left-back Craig Graham-Barrett drove forward, cut inside into the box, before sending a right-footed effort wide of Worner’s upright. Unfortunately, Steve King would be forced into making an early substitution on the half-hour, as Moussa Bakayoko limped off to be replaced by Elliott Romain.
As the half wore on, the Darts grew more confident and started to string more passes together. However, it would be the visitors who created the better opportunities. First Thomas Wright tried his luck from distance, but sent his strike sailing over Craig King’s crossbar (32), then Moussa Diarra got on the end of a dangerous cross, only to see his header fly just wide of the post (36). Four minutes later would see Rorrie Deacon play a brilliant ball towards Giuseppe Iaciofano but, thankfully, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb was alert to the situation and able to block the shot brilliantly.
So, as forty-five minutes of midfield dominance and tactical dead-ends came to a close, the second-half exploded into life within three minutes. The hosts burst down their right-flank, and the ball was fed into the Hawks’ penalty area, where Elliott Romain pounced. He was brought down and referee, Callum Walchester, awarded the penalty. Up stepped Jack Barham to put the ball beyond Worner to open his account for the hosts. The striker was on fire at this point, and should have added a second a minute later after Jack Jebb had put him through with a superb pass.
Unfortunately, the lively Barham fired just wide of the post.
The goal opened the game up, and the visitors attacked themselves, as they searched for an immediate response. They would come close in the 56th minute when Sam Magri sent the ball across the face of goal after receiving it following a corner. Two minutes later saw the Darts racing down the other end before Berkeley-Agyepong received the ball. Getting into the Havant box, he then proceeded to dance through the defence before attempting to feed the ball towards Barham. Unfortunately, his pass was intercepted before reaching his teammate.
At this point the football was breathless, and it was Havant’s turn to attack. It was Thomas Wright with the ball, and he saw his well-struck shot blocked excellently by Ronnie Vint (59). The loose ball was collected by the visitors and sent back into the box, prompting Craig King to confidently punch it clear of the danger area.
After 68 minutes, Mr Walchester took centre stage as proceedings began to get a little heated. Elliott Romain was booked first, before Diarra received a yellow for a late challenge on Berkeley-Agyepong. This sparked some pushing, shoving and harsh words between players, and David Ijaha was subsequently booked. Once Mr Walchester had regained control on the pitch, the free-kick (for the original challenge on Berkeley-Agyepong) was taken by Jebb just outside the Havant area. He sent in a peach of a ball towards the danger area, and Barham jumped higher than everyone else, connected with the ball perfectly, and guided it into the top corner (72).
Now 2-0 down, the visitors looked frustrated, but tried to get themselves back into the game. Yet, they should have been punished further when Berkeley-Agyepong almost got himself through on goal, only to be prevented by the strength of Diarra (76). However, they would pull a goal back eleven minutes from time, when a long-range effort by Joshua Taylor flew beyond King and into the bottom corner.
That would prove to be the last real effort from the Hawks, however, and they also found themselves down to ten men with seven minutes remaining, after Billy Clifford was sent off for a late foul on Jack Jebb. The Dartford midfielder had an effort himself, but sent his strike over the crossbar from just outside the box in the 85th minute.
From that point on, Steve King’s side dug deep and protected their narrow lead. In fact, the Dartford boss chose to close up ranks completely during the final four minutes plus stoppage time, as he introduced both Connor Essam (on for Jack Jebb in the 86th minute) and Abdul Osman (who replaced Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong in the 90th minute) to help Tom Bonner and Co secure the points.
Ronnie Vint was chosen as the Man of The Match after an outstanding performance. However, I’m sure Jack Barham will be requesting to share the accolades! In all seriousness, it was a difficult decision to award any single Dartford player, because everyone put in a shift this afternoon. What is clear, however, is that another hard-working display from all players ensured that Dartford’s unbeaten league form continued to keep the side at the summit of the National League South.
DARTFORD: Craig King, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Craig Braham-Barrett, David Ijaha, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner ©, Noor Husin, Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong, Jack Barham, Moussa Bakayoko, Jack Jebb.
SUBSTITUTES: Josh Hill, Abdul Osman, Gavin McCallum, Elliott Romain, Connor Essam.
HAVANT & WATERLOOVILLE: Ross Worner, Anthony Straker ©, Moussa Diarra, Sam Magri, Joshua Taylor, Billy Clifford, Giuseppe Iaciofano, Craig Robson, Bedsente Gomis, Thomas Wright, Rorrie Deacon.
SUBSTITUTES: Godfrey Poku, Theo Widdrington, Daniel Ajakaue, Lucas Sinclair, George McLennan.