Dartford are still on course for promotion following a controversial win at Havant & Waterlooville, setting up a Play-Off final at Weymouth next Saturday.
HAVANT & WATERLOOVILLE 1 DARTFORD 2
Dartford’s push for promotion continued, as they travelled to the South Coast, where they faced Havant & Waterlooville at Westleigh Park.
Steve King’s side arrived with every intention of continuing the excellent run of form by winning against one of the pre-season favourites for promotion. With the Darts being unbeaten against the Hawks in seven games, expectations were surely high and Tom Bonner and Co would be feeling confident after such a dominant display at Slough Town a week ago.
And it was that confidence that shone through, as Dartford put on a display of character and strength to come from behind and end the Hawks’ hopes with a Darren McQueen second-half brace.
Things didn’t look too promising for the visitors during the first-half, however, as a quiet start in extremely wet and windy conditions, ended with a Jonah Ayunga goal in the thirteenth minute. With the hosts playing in their white kit and taking advantage of the weather conditions, the Darts, in all purple colours, appeared to be up against the tide. The long throws of Josh Taylor were causing all sorts of problems for Tom Bonner’s defence, and it was one of those set-pieces which led to the opening goal. Danny Kedwell managed to get his head onto the end of Taylor’s long throw, flick it into the path of Ayunga, who managed to bundle the ball onto the post and across the line.
Dartford had already been alerted to Havant’s attacking threat moments earlier, when Taylor managed to break through on goal, only to see his shot excellently blocked by Jordan Wynter. Five minutes after Ayunga’s goal, the Darts should have drawn level after excellent work from Sanchez Ming. The Dartford defender used his strength and played through Jack Jebb, who fired an effort towards goal, only to see it blocked. The loose ball fell to Elliott Romain, but he saw his effort deflected behind for a corner, which unfortunately came to nothing.
As the game opened up and Dartford searched for an equaliser, the hosts were always a threat on the break and should have doubled their lead with two good opportunities. The first came from Ayunga (23), as he forced AJ Sesay into a comfortable save. The second (25) saw the Hawks break forward and Sesay rushing out sooner than he maybe should have done. The goalkeeper won the ball, but caught his opponent in the process, earning himself a yellow card from referee Tom Bishop. Thankfully, Bonner was there to block the shot after the Hawks had retrieved the loose ball.
There was more strong defending by Bonner and Matthew Briggs (making his first start of the season), as they held firm to clear the danger in the 32nd minute, before Jebb saw a free-kick collected comfortably by Ross Wornes a few minutes later. With three minutes of stoppage time remaining, tempers flared as Romain fouled Taylor to prevent a counter-attack. This would prove to be the Havant player’s final contribution of the afternoon, as he saw red… literally. Swiping out in anger at the Dartford striker with his leg after the initial challenge, and receiving a Red Card from Mr Bishop.
With the hosts down to ten men, Steve King sensed blood, and shuffled his side into a more attacking formation. Off came defenders Briggs and Ming, to be replaced by midfielder Tyrique Hyde and attacker Ky Marsh-Brown. Havant made three changes themselves, but little did they know of what lay in store for them throughout the second half, as Marsh-Brown in particular would prove to be too hot to handle.
A terrific run by the substitute in the 51st minute saw him deliver a dangerous ball into the box for Romain. Unfortunately, the striker’s shot was deflected behind and his header from the corner was too high. This effort was sandwiched between two good efforts for the Hawks though, as first Sesay was forced to prevent an attack (49) and then good work by Ayunga saw him find space to shoot, but shoot wide of Sesay’s post (58).
Ayunga would be left to rue that missed opportunity though, because the visitors attacked with the pacey Marsh-Brown down the left flank. His ball found Darren McQueen, who buried it beyond Wornes to bring his side level with just over half an hour to play. Marsh-Brown was in fine form and he was at it again in the 63rd, when he bombed down the left, cut inside into the box to feed the ball to Romain. Once again, however, the defence managed to block Romain’s effort.
With 64 on the clock, Lee Noble replaced Noor Husin, before Marsh-Brown was seen attacking with pace once again. This time the player was rewarded, as he got the better of Chris Paul, only to be brought down by him in the box. Mr Bishop awarded the penalty, and up stepped McQueen to blast the ball into the top corner. That was McQueen’s 20th goal of the season and he would be replaced by Luke Wanadio later in the game (82).
Dartford should have extended their lead, as first Romain got through on goal, only to see his shot smothered by Warnes (73) and then Marsh-Brown received the ball, found himself open in the box, but fired over the crossbar (87). Before that, Romain (who would be replaced by Charlie Sheringham in the 86th minute) was able to use his strength to fend off challenges and shoot at goal, only to see it drift wide of the upright (82).
At the other end, the Hawks’ main threat came via the powderful Ayunga. However, he failed to trouble Sesay in the 81st minute, saw an effort blocked well by Wynter (87), and then came up against the giants of Bonner and Josh Hill, as they cleared any further dangerous balls in what was an excellent display of character, teamwork and attacking play from Steve King’s side. The result sees them just ninety minutes away from a possible National League place, as they travel to Weymouth next weekend.
HAVANT & WATERLOOVILLE: Wornes, Read, Straker, Beckwith, Magri, Fogden, Kedwell, Ayunga, Deacon, Bailey, Taylor.
SUBSTITUTES: Drury, Tarbuck, Tupper, Robson, Gomis, Paul.
DARTFORD: Sesay, Ming, Braham-Barrett, Briggs, Bonner, Hill, Jebb, Husin, Romain, McQueen, Wynter.
SUBSTITUTES: Noble, Edwards, Sheringham, Hyde, Wanadio, Marsh-Brown.
Weymouth will now host Dartford in the Play-Off final after they scored a last minute winner to beat Dorking Wanderers 3-2.
In the National League North Boston and Altrincham will contest the Final next week.
Harrogate Town will play Notts County in the National League Final at Wembley on Sunday.