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Dartford v AFC Wimbledon

Football and Charlie Sheringham return to Princes Park on Saturday when Dartford begin their warm up to the 2013/14 Conference Premier season.

Tony Burman will get his first chance to see his squad and new players rack up game time against League Two side AFC Wimbledon. He could also face former Dartford striker Sheringham who joined the Dons in the summer. The 25 year old scored 41 competitive goals for the Darts over two spells with the club.

Burman has had to patch up Dartford’s defence and attack because of transfer activity this summer. Lee Burns is the only defender to remain with the Darts after a new contract was signed. Experienced defender Mark Arber joins Corby Town whilst Tom Bonner teams up with midfielder Tom Champion at Cambridge United. Adam Green, Richard Rose and Louis Wells were released by the club.

First Signing: Kenny Clark

Kenny Clark

Burns looks forward to working with centre half Kenny Clark who became Burman’s first signing. The 24 year old won Player of the Year in his first season with Chelmsford City back in 2011 and played 43 Conference South matches last term. Burman told BBC Radio Kent: “At 24 he is a good prospect and he wants to play at the highest level he can”.

In between the sticks the Darts welcome ex Gillingham goalkeeper Alan Julian. The 29 year old was released by playoff winners Newport County and so he misses out on a return to the Football League.  Last season Dartford used two loan signings from Fulham in Marcus Bettinelli and Csaba Somogyi.

Burman told kentonline.co.uk: “Alan’s not played many games over the last couple of seasons. He lost his place at Newport but he wants to be number one, he wants to be the best”, the Dartford boss added: “His attitude will rub off on our players. He’s not coming here for the sake of it, he wants to win games”. Julian admitted travelling was also a key factor in a forgetful season with the Exiles and is excited by the new challenge at Princes Park.

Matt Fry

Matt Fry

Youngster, Matt Fry is looking to rebuild his promising career and put himself back in the Football League shop window. An injury hit start for the highly rated defender is now behind him. Signed from Isthmian League Premier’s playoff winners Concord Rangers, the 22 year old suffered a serious injury at West Ham United aged just 15. Spells with Charlton Athletic, Bradford City and Gillingham has given Fry the hunger to climb the football ladder, he spoke to kentonline.co.uk and commented: “I’ve played at the top end of League One, challenging for the league with Charlton, so if I can get my fitness levels back, there’s no reason I can’t get back there”.

Coming in from Kent rivals Dover Athletic is 25 year old defender Tyrone Sterling. The left back spent six months at The Crabble and his commitment and desire to play at a higher level for Dartford impresses Burman.

With the release of Jacob Erskine and loanees Jason Prior and Sheringham returning to parent clubs attacking options are currently threadbare as Burman continues his search. Whoever the manager picks they will be partnered by new Dartford striker Lewis Smith, joining from a successful spell at AFC Hornchurch.

lewissmith

Lewis Smith

The Dartford boss tried signing the 23 year old last summer but Smith wanted to stay with the Urchins after their promotion to the Conference South. His side were relegated in their first season but that didn’t stop Smith from scoring a dozen goals. Burman feels his new forward is ‘potentially a very good prospect’.

One area that is safely secured is the middle of the park as the majority of last season’s midfield has been retained. Captain Elliot Bradbrook, crowd favourite Ryan Hayes, Jon Wallis, Lee Noble, James Rogers, Danny Harris and Nathan Collier all put pen to paper. Added to the list is attacking midfielder Max Cornhill, the 26 year old joined Chelmsford City in 2011 and follows Clark from Melbourne Park to Princes Park. Burman stated Max has a ‘good pedigree’ and believes the former Claret is a decent addition to the squad.

Managed by former Wimbledon and Watford midfielder Neil Ardley, AFC Wimbledon had a tough time in League Two last season finishing 20th after battling to stay in the Football League. The Dons started the final day in the bottom two, however a 2-1 home win over Fleetwood Town secured their place in League Two.

Ardley released ten players over the break including Jason Prior who had a loan spell with the Darts last season. Midfielder, Chris Arthur comes in from Conference South side Havant and Waterlooville, defender Barry Fuller signs from relegated Barnet and former Gillingham and Crystal Palace defender Andy Frampton arrives on a free transfer. George Francomb will play at Kingsmeadow following his release from Norwich City, the midfielder appeared 16 times for the Dons in 2012/13 during his loan spell.

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Dartford and AFC Wimbledon warm up for their F.A Trophy clash almost eight years ago

Since formation in 2002, AFC Wimbledon took nine years to reach the Football League with five promotions, including three titles. In the Combined Counties League the club set a 78 game unbeaten record, the longest for a senior team in the United Kingdom. The Dons are currently the youngest club to participate in the Football League following their playoff promotion in 2011 against Luton Town.

Dartford last faced AFC Wimbledon in November 2005 at Stonebridge Road. In a F.A Trophy Third Qualifying Round the Darts forced a replay after a goalless draw. The return fixture ended up with Dartford drawing another blank but late goals from Richard Butler and Barry Moore in the final four minutes ensured the Dons progressed in the competition.