Hemel Hempstead Town v Dartford

Dartford are set for the season opener at Hemel Hempstead Town this weekend after a three year absence from the National League South.

Relegation last term from the Conference Premier, now the National League left manager Tony Burman with some rebuilding to do. Eight new faces will be part of this season’s squad and they hope to get off to the perfect start when they travel to Vauxhall Road.

Burman realises the spending power has shifted towards other teams in the league making this campaign tougher, he told “We’ve got to be realistic with our aims”, he added: “People have strengthened with players who should be playing League football, let alone the National League, and they’re playing in National South”, he continued: “I’d like to think that come the end of the season, we’re there or therabouts trying to get into that playoff place”.

An unbeaten pre-season against lower league teams consisted of five wins and a draw. New number one goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim only conceded one goal, a promising start for the 24 year old who has finally got his opportunity as first choice goalkeeper.

In front of Ibrahim, the Darts welcome a brand new fresh looking defence which has already suffered a blow. Danny Fitzsimons, signed from Luton Town picked up a long term injury ruling him out of the trip to Hertfordshire. Mark Onyemah also arrives from the Hatters in a loan deal and will join former West Ham United defender Callum McNaughton, ex Hibernian player Tom Gardiner and Ronnie Vint, who has been promoted from the academy.

In a familiar looking midfield last season’s Player of the Year, Lee Noble will be joined by captain Elliot Bradbrook, winger Ryan Hayes, Danny Harris and new signings Jack Simmons from Canvey Island and Barry Cogan from Dover Athletic. Becka-Ka Dembele and Ebrima Adams follows in Vint’s footsteps from the academy. Marvin Hamilton briefly played for Hemel Hempstead Town in 2011/12 and joins after a spell at Dartford’s next opponents Eastbourne Borough.

A regular goalscorer has been a problem area for Tony Burman and so the front line has been strengthened. Andy Pugh, prolific at this level with Welling United and Tom Bradbrook remain part of the plans. Added to the strike force is former Barnet forward George Sykes. The versatile Lee Burns has agreed a new contract but over the summer continued with his work commitments which saw him leave last season early.

The Tudors finished in a respectable ninth last term after promotion in the previous campaign. Their successful debut season in the National League South was helped by top scorer Jordon Parkes, who left for Ebbsfleet United in the summer. Manager, Dean Brennan has replaced Parkes with former Bromley striker Jamie Slabber. John Frendo who top scored for St Albans City has also moved to Vauxhall Road. The Tudors can also boast an ex Premier league midfielder in Matthew Spring.

Brennan is keen to build on last season’s performance, the 35 year old commented: “We take the cups as a bonus, but we’ve set targets for the league. We don’t want to be bystanders in this division, we want to improve on last season. It’s definitely a tougher division though, with some well established non-league clubs with large support bases.”

The Irishman respects the Darts having been a division apart last term, he told “I watched them play near the end of last season, against Gateshead, and I was impressed with them. Dartford are a powerful side with dynamic speed. It’s a big jump from this league to the next, so I understand the circumstances that led to them being here. Their manager knows this division well, they’ve great travelling support and it’ll be a fantastic opening game for us”.

Hemel Heampstead Town have already began their competitive campaign having played Hitchin Town on Monday in the Hertfordshire Charity Cup.  Willie Gnahore scored a brace as the Tudors went on to win 2-0.

It’s been 43 years since the Darts last faced Saturday’s opponents in the F.A Cup first qualifying round. Managed by Doug Holden, Dartford went on to record a 9-2 away victory to progress in the cup.

Team News

Dartford are already without one of their summer recruits, Danny Fitzsimons will be out of action for months and potentially the whole season. Lee Burns is unlikely to feature having missed pre season due to work commitments. Ronnie Vint is a doubt with a groin problem. With three full backs missing Marvin Hamilton and Mark Onyemah are favourites to make their débuts.

Hemel Hempstead Town could line up with the side that beat Hitchin Town. Ed Asafu-Adjaye is out for another six weeks, John Frendo could be missing for up to four weeks. James Potton, Jamie Slabber and Jamie Butler are all fighting to get fit in time. Matthew Spring will not be available due family commitments.


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