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Season Review 2017/2018

Dartford were left heartbroken last weekend when they were pipped to the National South title on goal difference. For the neutral the race for the championship was gripping, for the club it was an emotional rollercoaster. An afternoon in Bognor saw the Darts going up for nine minutes, until an 89th minute winning goal at Havant and Waterlooville, by former Dartford striker Jason Prior snatched automatic promotion away, handing the Hawks the title.

In a season where it seemed no one wanted to win the division, it all ended up in a two-horse race. The Darts can be proud they were involved in the closest of contests and were challenging for a place in the National League all season. Of course, it’s not finished yet.

It could be fate, should Dartford win the playoffs they will extend their winning streak to eleven, beating the club record. Now that would be sweet consolation, but after last weekend be cautious as football can be cruel.

Dartford were joint favourites to win the National South with their playoff conquerors of last season, Chelmsford City. Tony Burman kept faith with his squad but lost the services of Luke Wanadio and Tom Wynter as well academy graduates Kaka Dembele and Ben Francis.

Burman managed to fill the vacant positions by signing Lyle Della-Verde from Concord Rangers and picking up left back Mark Onyemah, who had already had a loan spell with the Darts in the past. The Dartford boss also gambled to strengthen his strike force by signing Warren Mfula from the lower echelons of non-league.

August came too soon, immediately Dartford were plunged into an injury crisis. When the opening day came around they couldn’t name a recognised striker in the starting eleven, the result a tame 0-0 draw with Hungerford Town. Warren Mfula and new signing Richard Sho-Silva made debuts in the 2-2 draw with Braintree Town, in which the Darts showed typical fighting spirit coming from two goals down. A third draw in a row, this time against Havant and Waterlooville, left the Darts in sixteenth and without a win, but then things started to click.

When Elliot Bradbrook and Lyle Della-Verde scored the goals to seal a 2-0 win over Concord Rangers, they set Dartford on their way.

And then arrived Alfie Pavey…

Named National South’s Player of the Year, the striker left rivals Welling United and made his mark in the Dartford white. Pavey scored 22 league goals including the stunning last-minute winning bicycle kick against his former club on Boxing Day, what a goal that was. He netted his first since returning to the club in the 7-1 demolition of Oxford City, a game in which Warren Mfula took home the match ball with a second half hat-trick.

After five games unbeaten East Thurrock United inflicted the first defeat on the Darts leaving Burman’s side in sixth place. In September, the goals continued to flow and for a moment, after the 4-2 win over Eastbourne Borough, a day in which Ryan Hayes made his 400th start, the Darts went top for the first time. However, Dartford were quickly knocked of their perch with a 3-0 defeat at Weston-super-Mare.

Dartford’s cup journey began in mid-September and Elliot Bradbrook’s hat-trick against Barking in the F.A Cup, then Pavey’s treble versus Needham Market in a 6-1 victory set the Darts on their way. Pavey was on hand again in the last qualifying round at Burgess Hill Town earning a first round tie with League Two side Swindon Town.

Cup commitments and another defeat to Chelmsford City were responsible for Dartford’s drop to seventh in the league by mid-October, but then they leapfrogged to the top in the following game when they beat Bath City 2-1. From then on, the Darts remained in the top two leading the pack for three more months.

The F.A Cup run came to a halt in November as the Darts were taught a harsh lesson. Swindon Town completed a professional job beating Dartford 5-1, at least Richard Sho-Silva’s consolation got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

Out of the F.A Cup and on to the F.A Trophy, the Darts edged past Brentwood Town before taking National League side Boreham Wood to replay. A 1-1 draw was followed by a 2-2 stalemate but the Wood won on penalties.

By now the Darts weren’t playing brilliantly but no other side was taking advantage of any slip ups. Danny Mills, a striker with National South pedigree was signed on loan from rivals Ebbsfleet United, but the goals weren’t forthcoming for the 26 year old causing discussion amongst the terraces. For the record, he has scored in his last four appearances, hopefully good timing for the playoffs. The Darts also welcomed back Nathan Collier, who fitted in like he’d never been away.

The title was anyone’s to claim and when Dartford held on to a 1-0 win over Havant and Waterlooville in January, belief was growing. Then that belief was questioned in the second half of the month and the beginning of February. An away draw with Chippenham Town and defeats to St Albans City and Chelmsford City (again!) meant Burman’s men couldn’t take the opportunity to pull away from the chasing pack, it would prove costly. Although Wealdstone and Truro City fell victim to two good Dartford performances, Poole Town caused an upset at Princes Park another costly moment.

With Havant and Waterlooville now heading the table and Hampton and Richmond Borough close behind, the race was down to three. The Darts faced a showdown with Hampton and Richmond Borough on Good Friday in an utter mud bath of a pitch. Once more Pavey come up with the goods calmly chipping in a last-minute winner. By now Dartford’s incredible winning streak was in full flow and victory at Gloucester City put them top once more.

Still the Hawks wouldn’t give up and with Hampton and Richmond Borough out of the reckoning it was all building up to an unbelievable climax. The Darts started grinding out results, keeping six clean sheets, with new goalkeeper Berti Schotterl, in seven games, but they needed more goals to boost the goal difference.

The final week of the season was upon us and the tide turned to Hampshire. Havant and Waterlooville played a depleted East Thurrock United and at 1-1 the Essex club ran out of steam, the Hawks smashed in five more goals putting them ahead of Dartford by three goals, just three goals.

And then that afternoon at Bognor…

Words cannot describe the feeling amongst the club immediately after the final whistle blew, but if Dartford want to return to the National League they better get over the heartbreak quickly. The playoffs…to be continued.

Dartford v Braintree Town

Dartford will have to get over their final day heartbreak when they host Braintree Town, if they want to repeat their National South playoff triumph six years ago.

A last minute winning goal by champions Havant and Waterlooville snatched the title away from the Darts in the cruellest way. Dartford led Bognor Regis Town when Havant and Waterlooville let in an equaliser in their match against Concord Rangers, putting the Darts in pole position. However a last minute goal from former Dart, Jason Prior meant the Hawks claimed the title on the final day.

Despite the set back manager Tony Burman is proud of his players, he spoke to www.kentonline.co.uk and said: “We’re disappointed we haven’t won the league but I’m delighted with the effort everyone’s put in. We couldn’t have asked for more”.

Burman highlights the positives from the campaign which ended on an extraordinary winning streak, he commented: “That’s nine wins on the spin and I know it’s over 42 games but we’re equal on points, we’re the highest goalscorers in the league and our defensive record is third-best so what more can you ask?”, he added: “I’m absolutely delighted with what we’ve achieved so far this year and it’s not finished yet. We have to move on”.

Should Dartford move on and earn promotion through the National South playoffs, they will also break the current club record of ten consecutive wins in all competitions. The Darts last attempt at the playoffs ended in victory when they beat Welling United, this time the new format has given them a bye into the semi-final and home advantage if they make the final.

The Darts are on an incredible run of form which continued in their 2-1 away win at Bognor Regis Town. Danny Mills scored his fourth in as many games, all headers and Ronnie Vint hit a controlled volley for the second. Defensively Dartford have also improved with six clean sheets in the last eight games and have won their last four home matches.

Braintree Town made the playoff on the final day hitting Gloucester City with three second half goals. The win stretched their unbeaten run to six in the league with five victories and a draw.

On reaching the end of season finale manager, Brad Quinton said: “It’s a fantastic season for us bearing in mind when I arrived last summer we had no players and no team,” he explained. “But, despite one or two setbacks en route, all the players have worked hard and we’ve achieved our goal of getting into the playoffs – which we are all eagerly looking forward to”.

In the first set of playoff matches played on Wednesday night both fixtures ended up in extra time. Braintree Town couldn’t break the deadlock against Hemel Hempstead Town after 90 minutes, whilst Hampton and Richmond Borough and Truro City were level at 1-1. The Iron did manage to put the ball in the back of the Hemel Hempstead Town net in the final minute of extra time, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. With the match still goalless after 120 minutes, Braintree Town went the distance and won 3-2 on penalties. Meanwhile, Hampton and Richmond Borough didn’t need spot kicks sealing a 3-1 extra time win to earn a semi-final clash away to Chelmsford City.

When Dartford last played Braintree Town in December the two sides were joint top of the National South with the Darts leading on goal difference. The Darts were held at Princes Park in the final home game of 2017, Andy Pugh scored against the run of play after 17 minutes thanks to Tom Murphy’s surging run and assist. The Iron equalised in the second half when Ricky Gabriel crossed for Marcel Barrington to score from close range. Nathan Collier made his first start since returning to Dartford.

The previous clash between the two was in August and Dartford had to come from two goals down. The Darts had to show their fighting spirit to earn a 2-2 draw. Braintree Town went in at half-time in the driving seat with goals from Karl Oliyide and Billy Crook. In the second half, Lee Noble’s header back to Tom Murphy pulled a goal back, but the goalscorer was forced off through injury. The equaliser came from captain Elliot Bradbrook who headed home after Tom Bonner nodded the ball back across goal from a corner. On that evening, Warren Mfula made his first start and Richard Sho-Silva his debut.

It’s been almost six years since Dartford beat Braintree Town when Tom Bonner and Jacob Erskine scored the only two goals of the game. Since then, the Darts went five games without scoring against the Iron, drawing one then losing four in a row. The pair of draws this season has stopped the poor run against the Essex club and now the Darts have to go one better.

Head to Head
Braintree Town wins: 6 / Dartford wins: 2 / Draws: 4

Last six league games

Dartford (WWWWWW) Braintree Town (WDWWWW)
Bognor Regis Town A 1-2 Gloucester City H 3-0
Bath City H 2-0 Oxford City H 0-0
East Thurrock United A 1-0 Truro City A 2-1
Eastbourne Borough A 1-0 Whitehawk H 4-3
Gloucester City A 1-0 Concord Rangers H 2-1
Weston-super-Mare H 3-1 Hungerford Town A 1-0

Previous Six Meetings

23.12.2017 Dartford 1 Braintree Town 1
08.08.2017 Braintree Town 2 Dartford 2
01.01.2015 Braintree Town 3 Dartford 0
26.12.2014 Dartford 0 Braintree Town 2
18.04.2014 Braintree Town 1 Dartford 0
24.08.2013 Dartford 0 Braintree Town 2

Stats
Elliot Bradbrook will make his 400th start for the Darts if selected for the semi-final. The Dartford captain has scored 133 goals and made an additional 11 substitute appearances.

Another player to hit the 400 mark will be Danny Harris, but that will be total appearances (302 starts and 97 substitute appearances), the midfielder turned full back has scored 75 goals for the club.

In his second spell with the Darts, Nathan Collier has now made 49 substitute appearances and is one away from a half century.

The Darts have won nine league games in a row and are one win short of equalling their club record of consecutive victories in all competitions.

Dartford have won their last five home games, one more victory will see the Darts set their best winning streak at home this season.

Braintree Town are unbeaten in seven matches against Dartford stretching back to 2013.

On This Day
Dartford took a one goal lead going into the National South semi-final playoff second leg against Basingstoke Town. Lee Noble’s long range effort gave the Darts an advantage four days before the return match at Princes Park on 6 May 2012. Dartford went in front but it took until 56 minutes, Adam Green’s free-kick was put in the mixer for Elliot Bradbrook to rise the highest, putting the Darts 2-0 up on aggregate. Basingstoke Town equalised on the day with Shaun McAuley sweeping a shot beyond Louis Wells. The Darts restored the two goal aggregate lead when Danny Harris bundled the ball over the line from close range, sending the hosts through to the final where they beat Welling United to clinch promotion.