Dartford 0-1 Braintree Town - I question my own role at the end of every season and then we make decisions whether you carry on or you go somewhere else, says Dartford boss Tony Burman

Sunday 06th May 2018
Dartford 0 – 1 Braintree Town
Location Princes Park Stadium, Grassbanks, Darenth Road, Dartford, Kent DA1 1RT
Kickoff 06/05/2018 15:00

Vanarama National League South Play-Off Semi-Final
Sunday 6 May 2018
Stephen McCartney reports from Princes Park Stadium

DEVASTATED Dartford manager Tony Burman says he will consider his future after admitting failing to win promotion was a bitter pill to swallow.

The Darts were seconds away from winning the Vanarama National League South title eight days ago by beating basement side Bognor Regis Town 2-1 on the south coast but former Dartford striker Jason Prior scored a late winner to help Havant & Waterlooville beat Concord Rangers 3-2 to snatch the league title away from Dartford’s grasp in the cruellest manner.

Both sides finished their 42-game campaigns on 86 points, with Dartford scoring 81 goals, compared to the Hawks 70, but the Hawks claimed the title with a better goal difference of three.

Dartford went into this game with nine wins on the bounce, while Braintree were unbeaten in seven but Dartford suffered despair again today in front of 1,704 fans at Princes Park as Billy Crook smashed in the winner for Braintree Town with 18 minutes from time.

Bradley Quinton’s side finished their league campaign in sixth-place, 17 points adrift of runners-up Dartford and will travel to fourth-placed finishers Hampton & Richmond Borough (72 points) in next Sunday’s play-off after the Beavers beat ten-man Chelmsford City (74 points) in the other semi-final today.

Braintree Town qualified for today’s game after coming away from fifth-placed finishers Hemel Hemsptead Town victorious, winning 3-2 on penalties after a goalless stalemate after 120 minutes of football.

“I don’t think a lot hasn’t gone wrong. I think in these type of games you need a little bit of luck, I don’t think we got it,” admitted Burman during the post-match press conference.

“I thought we was excellent first half. We’ve had a few chances to score and we haven’t taken them.  The keeper’s pulled off a great save from Elliot (Bradbrook) and then the game would open up in the second half.

“Credit to (both sets of) players, they played in a lot of heat and it was very, very warm out there.”

Burman added:  “I think the boys have tried their best and a really, really good season has turned into a disappointment.

“I’m disappointed with the result but I’m not disappointed with the boys effort and the way they performed.  In these games you do need a little bit of luck.”

Dartford created the first opening when after only 44 seconds Alfie Pavey, who was playing wide on the right of a three man forward line, drilled his shot past the top of the near post from 15-yards.

Burman made three changes to the side that suffered heartbreak at Bognor Regis Town, with Duane Ofori-Acheampong, offering nothing at all in his role in the middle of the front line, as Burman left 15-goal striker Andy Pugh on the bench until the 80th minute.

“I made that change because I felt it was the best thing to do,” explained Burman.

“The changes I made today I felt we needed to get back to having three in midfield and I wanted Nathan (Collier) to go back (at right-back) because (Marcel) Barrington is a decent player and I thought he done ever so well.”

Marc-Anthony Okoye, Braintree’s centre half, led by example with a dominant aerial performance, and he couldn’t keep a towering header down at the back stick after Luke Allen played a short corner with Crook before putting over a deep cross.

Despite playing a 4-3-3 formation, Dartford lacked width as Braintree Town were confident and comfortably playing the ball into feet.

Alex Brown rolled the ball inside to his midfield partner Lee Noble, who cut the ball onto his right foot before blasting his 30-yarder over the Braintree crossbar.

Dartford were caught offside on three occasions within the opening 15 minutes as they faced a well-marshalled Braintree back four.

When they were breeched, 26-year-old goalkeeper Nathan McDonald pulled off a brilliant save to frustrate Dartford in the 21st minute.

Noble drew a foul from Braintree striker Reece Grant, which earnt him a yellow card and got back up after treatment to take the resulting free-kick.

Noble floated in the free-kick which dropped on the edge of the six-yard box and Bradbrook hooked his left-footed shot on the turn towards the bottom left-hand corner, only for McDonald to get down fast to his right and use his outstretched right-hand to scoop it behind for a corner.

“It was a good save, it was a very good save! That’s the little bit of good fortunate that you need and it didn’t quite come our way,” agonised Burman.

The Iron cleared Noble’s corner and broke down the left through Diaz Wright, whose cross was flicked on by Daniel Thompson but Luke Allen slid in at the far post but couldn’t find the touch it needed to poke it over the line.

Braintree left-winger Marcel Barrington cut the ball onto his right-foot to stroke his shot flashing past the foot of the near post from 25-yards.

Dartford created a second chance to take the lead in the 29th minute.

Bradbrook, who sat in front of the back four, released Danny Mills down the left and the striker got in behind Braintree right-back Jonathan Muleba but McDonald rushed off his line to block the wide-striker’s top-poke. 

The ball came out to Dartford left-back Mark Onyemah but Ofori-Acheampong planted his downward header harmlessly wide from six-yards.

Braintree’s holding midfielder Crook, was keen to join in up the other end of the pitch and his right-footed drive from outside the area flashed through a crowded box and past the far post.

Referee Lloyd Wood had to be brave in the 32nd minute when Noble latched onto Bradbrook’s clever ball over the top down the left and he slid the ball across the face of goal which was intended for Pavey at the far post but the ball bounced up and clearly struck the right-hand of Braintree left-back Ricky Gabriel.  No penalty was awarded.

Dartford defender Ronnie Vint was penalised for fouling Barrington on the edge of the D after the big number 11 failed to control the ball and drew a foul in a central position.

Dartford’s wall did their job, using their feet to block Allen’s driven free-kick and the ball came out to Crook, whose drive deflected behind for a corner.

Dartford hit-man Pavey missed a glorious chance to give Burman’s side a deserved lead in the 41st minute.

Noble’s ball along the floor released Mills down the left channel and he held the ball up as he had a defender closely marking him before biding his time before floating over a cross towards the far post. Pavey jumped higher than his marker and somehow planted his header agonisingly past the right-hand post from three-yards.

“He’s been excellent this season, he’s been absolutely outstanding, you saw it today,” said Burman, who then revealed why the ex Millwall striker was subbed.

“He’s cramped up, he can hardly walk and he had to come off.  You get someone screaming at you and abusing you and all off a sudden you say ‘look, he’s injured, he’s had to come off!”

Dartford had the better goalscoring chances during the first half and when asked about his half-time thoughts, Burman added: “Just to carry on, keep going! It will come, more chances will come, not as frequent but there you go!”

It was certainly a game of two halves as Braintree Town were the more attack-minded threatening side after the interval as Quinton got his game plan spot on.

Braintree Town were to be denied by quick thinking from goalkeeper Herbert Schötterl, who came to the edge of his penalty area and stuck out his right leg to block Grant’s low shot as he tried to skip past the keeper after being played through the middle by Thompson’s sliding pass as the former Tonbridge Angels striker broke through the heart of the pitch.

“Second half they were breaking on us,” said Burman.

“I don’t think we lost our way, they was breaking on us a little bit more when we were trying to get forward. We were playing with three out-and-out strikers up front so we could occupy their back four, who were big strong lads.

“He’s done well there Bertie and he’s done well since he’s come in and I’m pleased for him.  It was a good save and that could’ve been a goal.”

Another ex-Tonbridge player, Allen, swung in Braintree’s third corner from the left, Joshua Hill placed his header towards goal and Okoye looped his header over the crossbar from six-yards.

One of the managers had to change the game and Braintree boss Quinton pulled off a 59th minute masterstroke as left-winger Roman Michael-Percil came off the bench and turned the game in Braintree’s favour.

Two minutes later, Burman acted and called for right-winger Ryan Hayes for his ineffective targetman and switched Pavey into his natural central position and deployed a 4-1-3-2 formation.

Halfway through the second half there was only one team that looked likely to score and that was Braintree.

Hill released Thompson running down the left-channel and he held the ball up inside the box and waited for support from Allen, who stroked his right-footed shot towards the bottom corner from 16-yards, which Schötterl spilt low to his left before gathering at the second attempt.

Braintree continued on the front foot and Wright fed Allen in the middle, who sprayed the ball out to right-back Muleba in the final third.  He cut inside but blasted his attempt high over the Dartford goal.

The lively Barrington swept a diagonal pass to Michael-Percil, who cut inside and his right-footed drive bounced off the keeper and behind for a corner.

Allen floated in Braintree’s fourth and final corner, from the left, and the ball came out to Crook on the right-hand side of the box. He put a low ball back into the box and Michael-Percil couldn’t dig the ball out from under his feet and the ball ran nicely for Crook to smash his right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner from four-yards

Burman said: “In all fairness, we should’ve cleared it! Defensively, we’ve been excellent recently. We had enough chances to clear it and that happens!

“They got the breakthrough and once they got the breakthrough it’s hard to get back in these games.”

Allen teed up Wright, who unleashed a right-footed drive from 30-yards, which screamed past the foot of the near post.

Murphy added to Dartford’s urgency levels with pace down the left but Dartford only created one chance and that came in the 90th minute.

Bradbrook pushed up and played the ball out to Murphy, who delivered a deep cross towards three of his team-mates and one of them was Hayes, who smacked his hooked volley past the near post from a tight angle.

The decision to bring off Pavey for Tom Murphy (who played down the left) brought boos from the Dartford fans behind the goal but Burman revealed the striker was suffering with cramp and had to come off.

Burman added: “Yes, I thought we could get into it. We knew we wanted to bring some players on, once we had the battle with them if you like and we didn’t have as many chances but we had a little bit of pace with Tom Murphy and Andy Pugh came on, they tried their best.

“I’ve watched them (Braintree) and their back four was excellent and that’s why I wanted to put the pressure on them and I thought we did and it just didn’t come off.”

The final whistle brought tears of despair for the Dartford players, Bradbrook was one who dropped to his knees to shed some tears, while Braintree players went over to celebrate with their fans.  Celebrating a Semi-Final win is premature, they have to win at Hampton & Richmond Borough in seven days’ time to make it an immediate return to the Vanarama National League after suffering relegation last April.

Burman said: “Listen, they’ve got all summer to get over it, some will learn from it, some will be devasted but there’s a lot of players’ out there and a lot of staff around this place who may well not be here next year and we all knew that whether we went up or stayed where we are.

“I’m disappointed for all of the guys in all fairness and I’m just telling them how proud I was of the team and how they’ve conducted themselves.

“It was a big disappointment not to win it this year. It was a massive disappointment when you’ve got 86 points and you’re equal (on points with the champions) and you get the best out of the players that you’ve got and I think we did do that.

“We’ll have a look at it and see what went wrong in a couple of the games and over the season as a whole but we have to just see what happens.

“I don’t have no regrets from the league campaign at all! I think the players have been excellent and to get 86 points and score the most goals in the league and unfortunately we needed another point or extra goals and it was only three in the end, we’ve fallen short by three goals!

“I think we set out to do something, we had targets to reach. We bettered last year and we’ve gone second and I don’t have any regrets about anything.  I think the whole squad have done the best that they can.

“I don’t know what will be happening. We don’t know who will be staying and who’s going to be going. We have to take a bit of time out and have a think about it and we’ll see what happens.

“I’m gutted, absolutely gutted but that’s football, it happens. They’ve given their all and when they’ve given their all and they haven’t won something, it’s difficult.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow because I’m a little bit old school if you like and play-offs are great, the interest is there, you know the rules.  The top two should go up!

“It’s just the fact that we finished on the same points (as Havant & Waterlooville) as well.”

Burman revealed the club would have switched to training three mornings per week had they won promotion into the top-flight but they will remain part-time next season.

“I question my own role at the end of every season and then we make decisions whether you carry on or you go somewhere else, same with the players, they carry on or go somewhere else, you have to do that.

“It’s become difficult, I would say, because I’ve been here a long time and I’ve enjoyed myself, its’ been good.  I’ve been proud to be a part of what’s happened but you have to look at yourself and see if you could’ve done better and see what the next step is, whether it’s here or not.”

Dartford: Herbert Schötterl, Nathan Collier, Mark Onyemah, Elliot Bradbrook, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner, Lee Noble, Alex Brown (Andy Pugh 80), Duane Ofori-Acheampong (Ryan Hayes 61), Alfie Pavey (Tom Murphy 79), Danny Mills.
Subs: Danny Harris, Deren Ibrahim

Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Jonathan Muleba, Ricky Gabriel, Billy Crook, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Joshua Hill, Luke Allen (Christian Frimpong 90), Diaz Wright, Reece Grant (Roman Michael-Percil 59), Daniel Thompson, Marcel Barrington (Ben Wyatt 84).
Subs: Harry Acorige, Mahrez Bettache
Goal: Billy Crook 72

Booked: Reece Grant 19

Attendance: 1,704
Referee:  Mr Lloyd Wood (Dagenham, Essex)
Assistants: Mr Craig Green (Aldershot, Hampshire) & Mr Matthew Russell (Waterlooville, Hampshire)
Fourth Official: Mr Lee Brennan (Westminster, London SW1)

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