Dartford completed the double over Welling United with a 4-1 New Years Day win at Princes Park. Both teams kept to their Boxing Day 4-4-2 formations with Coyle, Healy and Bradbrook starting in place of Gayle, Durojaiye and Goldberg for the Wings. Recent bad weather had made the pitch sticky in places and with the strong wind howling from all angles this one was never going to be pretty.
The game was a tight affair for almost twenty minutes with chances shared before Ryan Hayes ran down the right wing, as Ben Jefford continued to back-up he cut inside and launched a shot from the edge of the area that somehow flew straight past Sandford in the Welling goal. It would be easy to feel that this early blow could dent the morale of the visitors and end this one as a contest even so soon in the match but actually the opposite happened. Immediately after the goal the livewire Elliot Romain drove past the defence and but had his fierce shot palmed away from Deren Ibrahim. But the Dartford keeper was to be beaten a minute later when Christian Nanetti played in a deep cross from the left that was headed home by Romain for his first goal for Welling. Game on!
For the rest of the half Dartford were on top and once again took the lead in the 39th minute. This one was similar to the first two that The Darts scored at Park View Road less than a week earlier. A quality through ball from Hayes found the overlapping Danny Hayes, he pulled it pack and Andy Pugh slid it under Sandford and into the back of the net. Despite a further chance for each side the half-time whistle went and the score was 2-1.
The second half kicked off and soon both goalkeepers had prevented the scoreboard in the corner of the ground from having to do any work. Firstly Ibrahim saved superbly from a fizzing Joe Healy effort before Sandford somehow prevented Mills from scoring when inside the six yard box. But Welling were doing okay and this match was not done yet. They came so close to levelling when Tom Bradbrook rounded Ibrahim before cutting back to Romain, unfortunately his effort was blocked by a collection of defenders.
With twenty minutes to go Alfie Pavey was introduced to the action and the match winner from Boxing Day was once again going to be the person that ended this as a contest. Throughout the match most of Dartford’s attacking threat had come down the right side with Ryan Hayes and Danny Harris continually linking up well. It was this combination that again combined and Hayes saw his cross headed against the post by Elliot Bradbrook before that substitute Pavey nodded home the rebound. He once again clearly enjoyed his moment and lapped up the love from the celebrating home fans once more. He had the opportunity to celebrate again five minutes later when he raced on to a through ball and fired and Sandford to make it 4-1. Game over. Dartford had done it again and the double was complete. Pavey would probably steal the headlines but the two guys on the right side of the pitch were where the win came from for Dartford as Hayes and Harris link up so well and were a threat every time they went forward. Hayes got the stadium M.O.M and that was a decent pick, it was clearly out of him and Harris. When watching the impact that Hayes, Harris and also Murphy had on the game it highlighted how little threat Welling gained through their wide players. Monakana had another very quiet game going forward and was constantly caught ball watching as Harris had the freedom of the right side to set up wave after wave of Dartford attack. Christian Nanetti gained the assist for the goal but did little else and with the quality of Jack Jebb and Harry Phipps sitting on the bench for this double header I do wonder if it will be wise to switch back to a formation that gets three centre-midfielders on the pitch for the next game against Eastbourne. The goalkeeper issue has been a problem all season and hopefully a permanent solution will be solved soon, Dillion Barnes has been the best so far and it would be nice if he could return. Sandford has been impressive in his short stay so far but this game was a bad one for him and hopefully o one-off. One player that did impress the Wings fans was Elliot Romain. He got his goal and worked tirelessly upfront, highlighted in the last minute where he tracked his man for 70 yards before making a strong tackle.
Dartford stay top and move two points clear. They were joint favourites at the start of the season to win this League and they now have that honour to themselves. At Park View Road on Boxing Day I struggled to see how they were the best team in this Division but now after reflecting over the 180 minutes combined I could see it. Man for man they are not necessarily better footballers than those at Welling but as a collective unit they clearly have the edge. Most of the players have been around Princes Park for a few seasons now and where Tony Burman had gaps he has been smart in bringing in the right types to fill them. They have developed a winning style and it works, each man knows his jobs and does it. Good Luck to them, they have the biggest crowds in this division, a decent new stadium, the right team, they are ready.
And then there is Welling. I wrote a fair bit on this subject after the last Boxing Day game and most of the feedback tells me that I was wrong and that this club should be competing with Dartford for this title but if anything this trip down the A2 told me is that I couldn’t have been more correct. The whole set up on offer there is a level above that at Park View Road. As we have seen, their team is better. They are at a different stage to Welling in their history. They have gone through their rebuilding phase and are seeing the rewards of a having a long-term manager. They are a few years into their promotion plan, Welling are at the start of theirs. The only Wings player on the field on New Years Day that was not new this season was Nanetti and even he had left and came back. These are good players but they still need to gel and this takes time however frustrating that is. Sure, mistakes will be made and disappointments will occur along the way but after a couple of awful seasons we are going to have to accept an average one before hopefully improving year-on-year here after. It could be worth remembering that as we enter the New Year we are only 11 points behind last seasons total points haul having currently played 18 games less!
Of course Dartford have a new stadium but it’s not that point that I see as the advantage, although they do have a scoreboard!, it’s the little things. Like, they had kids training on the pitch before the game and mascots, child memberships and kids pages in their impressive programme. Their social media is a long long way better, Goal GIF’s and more Club Updates and they have a superior website. They have a very smart Club Shop which is a gold mine for them. These little things work, they get people interested and through the turnstiles. They average nearly 1000 people a game! 400 more than Welling. That is a lot of money that could be spent on a playing budget! These extra people in turn can create an atmosphere that inspires the team on further, win-win. They must have brought 500 to Park View Road atleast, Welling took around 200 to Princes at most.
Unfortunately, they are at a different level both on and off the pitch and we would do well to invest time on those little things as a way of helping improve the bigger picture. Dartford are the blueprint for success in this division and we would do well to copy their successes. It can be done, it will need modern thinking, it will need time, it will need patience and it will need to have everyone pulling in the same direction, but it can be done. The journey is still at it’s early stages and positive tweaks here and there will help it on it’s way.
We need to be united as one to get to our destination but we will get there, keep the faith.