Dartford’s unbeaten run was halted by a stubborn, yet clinical Dorking Wanderers side, in an entertaining game at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park.
The Darts, who were forced to make a change in personnel, with Moussa Bakayoko (unavailable due to injury) replaced by Elliott Romain, found themselves a goal down within two minutes after an explosive start to the match. The goal came from a deflected cross into Craig King’s box, which saw Jason Prior manage to head the ball over the goal-line from close range. The Dorking striker looked suspiciously offside but referee, Alex Blake, ignored the host’s protests and allowed the goal to stand.
The goal sparked Dartford into life and they would go on to dominate the remainder of the half, as the midfield trio of David Ijaha, Noor Husin and Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong gained control in a busy midfield. With Ijaha protecting the defence, Husin and Berkeley-Agyepong were able to drive forward while attempting to release Jack Jebb, Jack Barham and Elliott Romain. All five players were a constant threat, and such a move saw Mr Blake award the hosts a free-kick in the 4th minute.
Sitting in a dangerous position, Jebb took it on himself and forced goalkeeper Slavomir Huk into a fabulous save to keep the ball out (5).
Despite the football being end-to-end and played at a high tempo, the Darts looked the more dangerous and the visitors resorted to fouling their opponents as well as trying to fool the referee with unsporting tactics. Unfortunately, Mr Blake fell for Dorking’s charms, as he awarded meaningless free-kicks every time a Dorking player screamed at the slightest touch! Yet, the visitors were also overly-aggressive, as they intentionally kicked the Dartford players all over the pitch. And it was the lively Jack Barham who seemed to attract a majority of the aggression, as he was kicked in the chest by James McShane in the twelfth minute, which saw the Dorking man receive a yellow card.
Mr Blake would then show absolutely no leniency, as he booked both Tom Bonner and Jason Prior for a coming-together during a Dorking corner (19). Unfortunately, the referee was totally oblivious to the unsporting antics of Prior, who was falling over every time he went near the Dartford captain!
Barham was then floored by a Dorking player after a brilliant period of play appeared to have released the striker (22), before Jebb and Romain combined well to enable the latter to get a cross into the danger area. The ball found Bonner in the box, who went down under the challenge of a defender, but the referee wasn’t obliging (23). However, the Darts were finally rewarded for their efforts in the 27th minute after another terrific piece of play. Barham received the ball on the right flank and, refusing to give in to the pressure of a Dorking player, managed to feed the ball to Romain. The latter set up Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong perfectly, who was never going to miss from close range, as he tapped home the equaliser.
There were opportunities for Steve King’s men to take a deserved lead, but Romain would shoot straight at Huk (34), Ronnie Vint would just miss out on connecting with a Jebb free-kick (36), and Berkeley-Agyepong would shoot straight at Huk after receiving a great ball from Ijaha (40).
Wanderers, on the other hand, would show more consistency in front of goal, as Prior was allowed the space to get on the end of a Nick Wheeler ball and send a right-footed flick beyond King to restore his side’s lead with seconds remaining. The Darts responded instantaneously with a Barham effort, but Huk was there to save.
With a narrow lead, Dorking’s second-half tactics were all too clear, as they set out to break up play and waste time. They started the half with James McShane being replaced by Alfie Rutherford, and their remaining substitutions would swiftly follow in the 64th (Matt Briggs on for Dan Gallagher) and 65th minute (Sam Beard on for Isaac Philpot).
After a slow start, the Darts made their superiority count in the 51st minute, as another powerful run by Berkeley-Agyepong resulted in him being fouled and a free-kick awarded right on the edge of the Dorking penalty area. Up stepped Jebb, who wrapped his right foot around the ball to send it screaming into the back of the net.
Another brilliant driving run, this time by Noor Husin, should have seen the host’s edge their noses in front. However, yet another foul, this time on Romain as he received Husin’s pass, resulted in another free-kick. Unfortunately, Jebb’s ball was headed wide for a Dorking throw (60), before another excellent pass from Husin saw Jebb’s strike blocked well by the defence (63).
Husin was having a terrific game and might have scored himself, after another good Dartford move saw the midfielder through into the Wanderer box. Unfortunately, he fired into the side-netting (67) and a few minutes later a rare opportunity for the visitors saw Rutherford shoot straight at Craig King from distance (71). He wouldn’t have long to rue his miss, though, as his side retook the lead with a little under fifteen minutes remaining courtesy of substitute Matt Briggs, after another rare Dorking attack. The ball was put into the Dartford box and Briggs was able to connect with it and send a hooked effort beyond Smith.
The goal appeared to deflate Steve King’s Darts, and the manager reacted with reinforcements in the 80th minute, as Charlie Sheringham and Luke Allen replaced Elliott Romain and Jack Jebb respectively. Five minutes later saw Ky Marsh-Brown replace David Ijaha, but the Darts just couldn’t get their passing game back in motion, as the visitors resorted to frustrating them by wasting time.
The closest the hosts came, in fact, was when Jazzi Barnum-Bobb sent a brilliant ball into the box, but it was just too far for Allen to reach (83).
And so Dartford’s unbeaten run was ended by a clinical Dorking Wanderers in a game that they undeservedly lost. The Darts controlled proceedings for a vast majority of the ninety minutes, such was their superiority in the midfield and attacking areas of the pitch. Had Lady Luck been shining on Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park, and had the defence been more wise to the visiting set-piece tactics, the result may have swung the other way. One thing is for certain, however, Tom Bonner and Co will learn from this, dust themselves down, and go again next week.
DARTFORD: Craig King, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Craig Braham-Barrett, David Ijaha, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner ©, Noor Husin, Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong, Elliott Romain, Jack Barham, Jack Jebb.
SUBSTITUTES: Charlie Sheringham, Jordan Wynter, Connor Essam, Ky Marsh-Brown, Luke Allen.
DORKING WANDERERS: Slavomir Huk, Isaac Philpot, Barry Fuller ©, Ed Harris, Kane Wills, Wes Fogdon, James McShane, Dan Gallagher, Niall McManus, Jason Prior, Nick Wheeler.
SUBSTITUTES: Sam Beard, Matt Briggs, Jake Gallagher, Giuseppe Sole, Alfie Rutherford.