Dartford 1-1 Braintree Town - Top at Christmas, which is nice, hopefully we can stay there, says Dartford boss Tony Burman

Saturday 23rd December 2017
Dartford 1 – 1 Braintree Town
Location Princes Park Stadium, Grassbanks, Darenth Road, Dartford, Kent DA1 1RT
Kickoff 23/12/2017 15:00

Vanarama National League South
Saturday 23rd December 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Princes Park Stadium

DARTFORD boss Tony Burman says it feels nice to be sitting top of the tree at Christmas.

Dartford and Braintree Town were first and second in the Vanarama National League South table this morning but both had to settle for a point in front of 936 fans at Princes Park Stadium.

Dartford striker Andy Pugh, 28, scored his seventh goal of the season to give Burman’s side the lead, before Bradley Quinton’s side deservedly levelled on the stroke of half-time through winger Marcel Barrington’s fourth of the campaign.

Dartford retain their top-spot after their 22 league games but they are one of five clubs that are locked on 39 points; Havant & Waterlooville, Chelmsford City, Braintree Town and Hampton & Richmond Borough, while Hemel Hempstead Town and Truro City make up the play-off sides with 36 points on the board.

“I think I was happy with the draw because we’ve played against a good side, a footballing side,” said Burman during the post-match press conference.

“They’ve caused us one or two problems.  I’m disappointed that we conceded a goal in the first half just before half-time because I think we should’ve had a foul on the halfway line on Danny Mills, nevertheless they still got in.

“I felt that their keeper has made a couple of saves as well.  Mills had a header, which you’ve got to look at that going in, maybe we could’ve been 2-0 up on chances, instead of going in one-all, but having said that they came at us again in the second half.

“I think both teams, in all fairness to them, with the games that they’ve had in midweek, didn’t help the situation but I’m happy with the point.”

Both sides were knocked out of The Buildbase FA Trophy in First Round Replays in midweek.

Dartford suffered by losing 3-1 to Boreham Wood on penalties after a long game finished 2-2 after extra-time, while Braintree went out with a 2-0 defeat at Brackley Town.

On today’s game, Burman added: “I did think it was a good game.  The stats are saying what they are, we drew with them (Braintree) at their place and I’ll say I’m happy, obviously we want the three points but at least we haven’t come away with nothing. We’ve got something for our efforts and to be it seems like it was a good game, so probably over the 90 minutes, probably a fair result.”

Quinton has got The Iron playing an eye-pleasing brand of passing on the deck football.  Central defender Marc-Anthony Okoye was commanding and solid throughout, Billy Crook was their midfield playmaker while 15-goal striker Philip Roberts dropped deep and linked up well with his team-mates in what was a very impressive performance from the Essex outfit.

Braintree Town started the game on the front foot, creating their first opening after only 62 seconds.

Crook swung in their first corner from the left, goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim flapped and Okoye steered his far-post header over the crossbar.

Despite being Braintree’s leading goalscorer, Roberts often dropped deep and he played a give-and-go with striker Reece Grant and tried his luck with a right-footed drive from 30-yards, which was saved comfortably by Ibrahim.

Crook then fed left-back Ricky Gabriel, who got in behind Dartford right-back Danny Harris to cut the ball back from the by-line for Barrington to stab a deflected shot just past the foot of the near post inside the opening 12 minutes.

“They’re a good footballing side, they keep the ball and it took us a little bit of time,” admitted Burman.

“We worked on it (in training) on Thursday what they were doing but it didn’t quite come off, people didn’t do what I asked them to do but that happens.”

Dartford, however, grabbed the lead against the run of play, with 16 minutes and 13 seconds on the clock.

Dartford’s left-winger Tom Murphy takes all of the credit as he stopped Barrington on his tracks inside the Dartford half and must have sprinted 60-yards down the left, before cutting into the box and setting up Pugh, who swept his first time shot across the keeper, nestling into the bottom far corner from 10-yards.

Burman said: “Their wing-backs sort of pushed him (Murphy) back and pushed Ryan Hayes back and again we played against a team that play three at the back and we felt if we could get the ball wide we could let our two wide boys be positive, move forward with the ball and Murphy does that very, very well.

“That’s what I like to see him do, be positive.  He’s got a lot of pace so it was a good goal.”

The goal sparked Dartford into life and they enjoyed a good spell where they created chances to kill the game off.

Harris played in a low cross from the right along the 18-yard box for Elliot Bradbrook, who slipped the ball across to Pugh, who from just inside the corner of the box floated over a cross towards the far post and striker Danny Mills’ diving header from four-yards was blocked by the legs of visiting keeper Nathan McDonald.

Burman said: “I think Millsy will be looking for that to go in but it hasn’t.  I think it looked like a good save as well so that’s when we possibly could’ve come in at 2-0 at half-time.

Mills, who is on loan from Dartford’s bitter National League rivals Ebbsfleet United, notched his maiden goal for the club at Boreham Wood in midweek.

“Listen, in the games he has played for us he has worked really, really hard,” said Burman.

“In the last three games he’s had to play up front on his own and he’s done ever so well. 

“His attitude in the training sessions and whilst he’s been here has been first class and I have to say he wants to win.  He’s been outstanding in respect of his attitude with all of the guys and I’m glad I’ve got him with us. We’ve got a good strikeforce at the moment.”

Halfway through the first half, Tom Bonner launched a long ball forward from the half-way line and Mills turned inside the box and rolled his shot into McDonald’s hands for a comfortable save.

Pugh whipped in a cross from within the left-channel towards the centre and Mills glanced his header across goal and past the far post from eight-yards.

Central midfielder Nathan Collier, who is back for his second spell at Dartford, started a move that finished in Mills getting the ball out from underneath his feet inside the Braintree box but all he could do was poke his shot straight at McDonald.

But Braintree Town wasted a glorious chance to equalise in the 29th minute.

Left-winger Samir Bihoutine rode Harris’s strong challenge from behind on the touchline close to the half-way line before cutting into the Dartford half of the field before floating over a deep cross towards an unmarked Barrington, who was left in space on the edge of the Dartford box.  However, his shot was poor, rising high over the bar.

Burman said: “That was probably their opportunity but he hasn’t hit the target so that was their opportunity. We hit the target so that’s what I’m saying,  It probably should have gone in, having said that, it was a decent game.”

Dartford’s performance was good in the first half but it died down during an uninspiring second half.

Captain Bradbrook was given time and space in the final third to chip in a cross into the Braintree box and McDonald palmed the ball away whilst diving to his left and Mills’ chance of finishing off the rebound was cut off by the commanding figure of Okoye behind him.

Burman added: “The opportunities were there in the first half to take and some of them were half chances but we played against a side who kept the ball and caused us problems.”

Braintree Town’s deserved equaliser arrived with 43 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

Holding midfielder Christian Frimpong played the ball out to Gabriel, who got in behind Harris to reach the left by-line before cutting the ball back towards the near post for Barrington to poke his right-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner from four-yards.

“We thought we had a shout for a foul on Mills on the halfway line, it wasn’t to be,” said Burman.

“They got the ball down the sidelines, it’s not cut back, it was hit across the near post and I don’t think he should be getting a cross to the near post.  I think the defender should be putting it out for a corner!  Twice they’ve done it in the second half and our defensive position was a lot better than what it was for the goal.”

When asked for his half-time thoughts, Burman replied: “I said the downside of it was that they’ve scored a goal.  I said that I thought the performance was good.

“We were saying at half-time our delivery into the box was exceptional against Boreham Wood, free-kicks and set-pieces and ours were poor today.”

Just like the first half, Braintree Town started the second half on the front foot.

Roberts played a give-and-go with Gabriel down the left and he floated over a cross into the six-yard box where Barrington rose to plant his free-header over Ibrahim’s crossbar from six-yards after only 92 seconds.

Bihountine then played the ball inside to Crook, who cut inside and stroked a left-footed drive from 25-yards, which was comfortably held by Ibrahim, low to his left.

And inside the opening six minutes, Roberts got in behind Dartford left-back Mark Onyemah and drilled his low shot from the by-line across the face of goal from a tight angle and outside the box.

“They came at us again in the second half.  I don’t think Deren has had to make a save.  They had some chances, half-chances where they haven’t hit the target,” added the Dartford boss.

Dartford weathered the storm and the rest of the second half was to be played out as an uninspiring stalemate.

Burman explained why he left 17-goal striker Alfie Pavey on the bench until he replaced Pugh in the 67th minute.

He said: “I think it’s well publicised that Alfie has had some breathing problems over the last few weeks, which as hampered him when the weather’s cold. He’s an asthmatic and you have to manage that and I know all about that being asthmatic because that’s what I suffer from myself. 

There’s nothing like the worst feeling not being able to breath.  We’ve had to sort of calm that down a little bit and wait for him to get ready and get better. 

“Although he tells me he’s better, that’s a 22-yerar-old for you and I have to make decisions whether he starts or he doesn’t.  One of the things we’ve had to do over the last three games is play one up so no-one’s done anything wrong. It’s just I’ve chosen Danny Mills and I think I’m justified in doing that!”

When asked why Lee Noble stayed on the bench, Burman, who revealed the midfielder pulled his calf during the warm-up at Meadow Park in midweek, added “When I got here, he was out doing the warm-up and he’s come through the warm-up on his own.  I decided to put him on the bench and he done the warm-up with the players, he’s come back in and his calf stiffened up so we had a little problem there so before people say why haven’t we got Nobes on there, unfortunately I’ve made the decision again, he’s not going on because he’s told me it has stiffened up a little bit.”

Braintree Town got a header on  target in the 71st minute when right-back Jonathan Muleba, Crook and Roberts linked up in the final third.  Roberts’ dink was flicked on by Bihountine and Grant’s far-post header was steered straight at Ibrahim from six-yards out.

Burman admitted: “I can’t remember it. I can’t remember Deren pulling off a great save. If it’s straight at him then fine, that’s fine, they had some half chances second half.”

Dartford went route-one within a minute as central defender Ronnie Vint launched a big kick forward, the ball was cleared out to substitute Lyle Della-Verde, who drilled his first time left-footed drive across the keeper and past the far post from 25-yards.

“Lyle had just come on at that time as well, so he was unlucky,” said Burman.

Of the two sides Braintree Town’s passing game looked the more likely to create a goalscoring chance to win it, as the game drifted towards its conclusion.

Grant and Roberts linked up in the final third for Bihountine to flash his left-footed angled drive across the keeper and past the far post from 25-yards with 12 minutes left.

Della-Verde wasted a glorious chance to snatch victory for Dartford but his free-kick from 26-yards out was woeful, sailing harmlessly past the far post.

Braintree Town created the last chance of the game when Dartford failed to clear their lines in a good spell from the away side.  Muleba whipped in a cross from the right and substitute Roman Michael-Percil hit his speculative overhead kick over the crossbar from 10-yards.

Dartford have stiff competition for the Vanarama National League title, ahead of the double-header against Welling United.

The Wings have home advantage at Park View Road on Boxing Day, Tuesday 26 December (13:00), before the return at Princes Park on Monday 1 January 2018 (15:00).

Welling Untied crashed to a 4-1 defeat at Chelmsford City today and have slipped down to eleventh-place in the table with 32 points from their 22 games.

“Top at Christmas, which is nice, hopefully we can stay there,” said Burman.

“I’ll be happy to be there at the end of the season.  We’re top after 22 games, we would’ve taken that in August.  We’d like to be five, six or seven points clear but there’s a lot of teams up there but we’re trying to do things in the right manner.

“We’re expecting a tough game, local derbies are always tough games,” Burman said on Welling United.

“You’ve got Christmas where people want to enjoy their Christmas as well. Hopefully we can get over there and put the work-rate in and we’ll cause them some problems.

“I think over the next couple of months things will get sorted and hopefully that might become a smaller group to go for the title, so I think over the next couple of months things will get sorted.”

Dartford: Deren Ibrahim, Danny Harris, Mark Onyemah, Elliot Bradbrook, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner, Ryan Hayes, Nathan Collier, Danny Mills, Andy Pugh (Alfie Pavey 67), Tom Murphy (Lyle Della-Verde 68).
Subs: Richard Sho-Silva, Lee Noble, Alfie Cue

Goal: Andy Pugh 17

Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Jonathan Muleba, Ricky Gabriel, Christian Frimpong, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Joseph Ellul, Marcel Barrington (Roman Michael-Percil 73), Billy Crook (Luke Allen 84), Philip Roberts (Matt Baxter 90), Samir Bihoutine.
Subs: Osa Obanwonyi, Karl Oliyide

Goal: Marcel Barrington 44

Booked: Joseph Ellul 52, Billy Crook 83

Attendance: 936
Referee: Mr Tom Reeves (Coventry, West Midlands)
Assistants: Mr Steven Parmenter (Southend-on-Sea, Essex) & Mr Michael Marsh (Herne Bay)

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