For the third time in four years Dartford have seen have exited the National League South Play Offs on penalties, with this season defeat coming after a dominant display against St Albans.
Missed chances proved costly as the Darts really should have won the game in the initial ninety minutes. However, having not done so, one penalty shoot-out save by Dylan Berry was enough to take the Saints to the play-off decider at Oxford City.
Berry was called into action early when beating out a drive from on-loan Darts striker Harvey Bradbury, and the Saints’ custodian was required to make a similar save when Maxwell Statham sent a raking pass out to Luke Allen. He crossed to Bradbury, who knocked it down to Richard Chin whose powerful shot was pushed away.
In the twelfth minute Dartford went ahead. Statham’s crunching tackle on Zane Banton sent Bradbury clear and he lobbed the out-rushing Berry.
Chay Cooper hit a free kick over and Devante Stanley was well wide with a long distance effort as the Saints looked for a response, but Dartford’s Jack Smith had a shot deflected wide before Berry made another good save from Jordan Wynter’s rasping low drive that went through a forest of legs.
Ben Dudzinski made his first save just before the half hour mark from Banton’s low shot but Dartford still looked in control until St. Albans levelled four minutes before half time. Banton sent in a low near post corner and Aidan Francis-Clarke lost his marker to hit on the full first time into the bottom corner.
Looking for an immediate response, Luke Coulson had a shot blocked out as far as Allen but he blasted his follow up well over.
Shortly after half time, Dartford missed another great chance. Substitute Pierre Fonkeu had a shot blocked by Francis-Clarke and it fell for Allen but he shot straight at Berry from close range and the opportunity was lost.
Another opening went when Berry committed himself and it came out to Coulson but his first time effort from thirty yards floated just wide. Bradbury headed against the bar but it wouldn’t have counted as an offside flag was up.
At the other end, Mitchell Weiss had a shot deflected wide before Ryan Blackman shot well over from outside the penalty area. Weiss was again off target when meeting a Banton cross at the near post before he turned provider with a cross fractionally out of Cooper’s reach.
Early in extra time, Connor Essam was off target with a header from a corner before Coulson was adamant that his shot was blocked by an arm in the penalty area, however, he had little support from his team-mates.
Coulson then got in behind and flicked it goalwards with his back to goal but Berry was out quickly to block.
Just before half time of the additional thirty minutes, a deep cross picked out Banton but the angle was against him and he could only volley into the side netting.
Despite both teams having each made four changes over the course of the game, fatigue appeared to take over and the nearest that either side came to scoring was when Essam couldn’t garner enough power to beat a diving Berry.
Firing towards the end which homed the Saints’ supporters, Shaun Jeffers opened the shoot-out with a bottom corner effort. Derry then made an outstanding save to push away Samir Carruthers’ effort.
Glenn McConnell, Banton and Cooper for St. Albans, and Coulson, Charlie Sheringham and Kieran Murtagh for Dartford all converted perfectly. That left Joe Neal with the opportunity to finish it and although Dudzinski went the right way, and Neal didn’t find the corner, it had the power to find the net and win the match.
It was a tough way for Dartford to end an excellent season, especially as it was their third play-off defeat on penalties in four years.