Wealdstone 4-1 Dartford - We're crying out for us to review the game and for the players' to have a look at and a think, says Dartford joint-manager Adam Flanagan

Saturday 03rd August 2019
Wealdstone 4 – 1 Dartford
Location Grosvenor Vale, Ruislip, Middlesex HA4 6JQ
Kickoff 03/08/2019 15:00

Vanarama National League South
Saturday 3 August 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Grosvenor Vale

DARTFORD joint-manager Adam Flanagan has called for a big performance on Tuesday night after being thrashed by Wealdstone on the opening day of the Vanarama National League South season.

The Stones finished in seventh-place last season and after beating Bath City 3-1 in the play-offs, they went down to a 3-2 defeat at Woking in the Semi-Finals, who beat Welling United 1-0 in Steve King’s last game in charge of the Wings in the Promotion Final.

Dartford had to settle for a disappointing tenth-place finish, finishing just a couple of points below Wealdstone on 64 points from 42 games, in Jamie Coyle and Flanagan’s first season in charge of the club after replacing Tony Burman.

Wealdstone started the game on the front foot and targetman Ross Lafayette, 33, gave Dean Brennan’s side a deserved early lead from the penalty spot, but Dartford grabbed an equaliser with virtually the last kick of the half through Josh Hill’s header.

Dartford put in a vastly improved performance during the second half but Wealdstone stole the lead through Ben Greenhalgh’s unfortunate own-goal with 15 minutes remaining before the Darts capitulated.

Wealdstone centre-half Connor Evans came up from the back to glance in a header from a corner, before Lafayette scored with a shot on the turn from the edge of the box, as the Stones were clinical in front of goal.

“Disappointing result.  First game of the season, you want to come away from home and at least get something from the game and at one-all I feel that we were in a good position. We had a few chances and we weren’t able to convert them,” said Flanagan.

“Then a deflected own-goal for their second one, we weren’t marking tight enough for the set-piece and to be fair I think after that we looked like we didn’t believe we were going to get back in the game, which was probably the most worrying thing of the whole thing.”

Both sides utilised their targetmen with Wealdstone getting the ball quickly up to Lafayette, who gave Dartford centre-half Tom Bonner the run-around, while Dartford played the ball up to their targetman Adam Cunnington, 31, but he was less effective in the final third.

Wealdstone set the tone and created their first opening after only 62 seconds.

Right-back Nick Arnold hit a long ball out of defence and Lafayette controlled the ball and held off Bonner down the right-hand side of the Dartford penalty area.

Lafeyette cut the ball back to Arnold, who whipped in a first time cross towards the far post for winger Sanchez Watt to plant his downward header just past the foot of the near post from inside the six-yard box.

Wealdstone midfielder Danny Green dropped deep and played a crossfield pass to send left-back Michee Efete on his way. He easily cut inside Dartford right-back Jordan Wynter, who tripped his opponent as he cut across him inside the box and referee Robert Massey-Ellis pointed to the spot.

Dartford keeper Mark Smith moved to his right but Lafayette drove his right-footed penalty straight down the middle of the pitch to give the Stones the lead with only eight minutes and 16 seconds on the clock.

“I thought the penalty was a little bit light from where we were looking but they’ve converted that and I think after that spell after 20 minutes, I felt we grew into the game a little bit more,” said Flanagan.

“A few of the boys thought he won the ball, the ref’s made a call and he’s decided it’s a penalty.”

Efete skipped past Wynter for the second time and teed up Billy Clifford, who sliced his shot from a central position just eight-yards from goal and shots from Green and Watt were cleared off the line.

Dartford weathered the early storm and created their first opening in the 16th minute.

Centre-half Hill won the ball inside the Dartford half of the pitch and played the ball in behind Arnold to release Luke Wanadio down the left.  The winger cut in towards the edge of the box but his right-footed shot was weak and rolled into the hands of Aston Oxborough, 21, who was drafted in on loan from Premier League side Norwich City following an injury last weekend to Wealdstone’s highly-rated keeper Jonathan North.

Wealdstone immediately went up the other end with Efete playing the ball into Lafayette’s feet and with his back towards goal. He flicked his pass to put Watt in behind Wynter but Mark Smith’s left-foot saved Dartford’s bacon, as the winger tried to drive his shot across the keeper and into the bottom far corner.

Dartford centre-half Bonner lost a dual with Lafayette, bringing down the Wealdstone target-man and keeper Mark Smith scrambled across his goal-line and was relieved to see Green’s left-footed dipping free-kick narrowly miss the near post from 28-yards.

Wealdstone’s holding midfielder Michael Phillips rolled the ball to Efete, who once again cut across Wynter to reach the edge of the Dartford box.  He played the ball inside to Connor Smith, who drove his right-footed shot just past the right-hand post from 30-yards.

Dartford fashioned an opening on the counter-attack when Cunnington held the ball up again and fed Ryan Hayes, who rolled the ball back to Cunnington, who stroked a low drive towards the bottom near corner from 20-yards, which was spilt by Oxborough at his near post before gathering at the second attempt.

“It was difficult going up the hill because it’s a big pitch and it was difficult to get bodies in and around him but we knew it probably suited him more in the second half coming down the hill but I thought Adam battled really well,” Flanagan said of debutant Cunnington.

“From the second period of the first half I thought we grew into the game and put some good crosses in there and asked more questions.”

Dartford’s holding midfielder Greenhalgh ventured forward and was bundled over by Connor Smith and the Darts were agonisingly close to grabbing the equaliser from 25-yards in the 32nd minute.

Greenhalgh curled his left-footed free-kick against the underside of the crossbar as he aimed for the top left-hand corner, with the keeper well-beaten.

Flanagan added: “It hit the underside of the bar, bounced down and Adam Cunnington was ruled offside but it was a great free-kick by Ben, just unfortunate it couldn’t find the net.”

Wealdstone built down the right with Green and Arnold, who cut the ball back for Clifford, who swept his shot towards goal from inside the Dartford penalty area.  Dartford received a huge slice of luck when the ball bounced off Lafayette on the edge of the six-yard box and the ball narrowly missed the foot of the right-hand post.

“I remember that one,” added Flanagan, whose side were being torn apart at this part of the game.

“I think we had bodies back but Roscoe’s put a shot towards goal and it went off for a goal-kick.”

Dartford grabbed an equaliser, 61 seconds into stoppage time, which was virtually the last kick of the first half as the referee blew for half-time straight after the home side kicked-off.

Dartford forced their second of three corners and Hayes swung in the resulting corner from the right and Hill found space at the far post to bury his downward header past Oxborough from eight-yards.

“A great time to score! A good set-piece into a good area, attacked well by Josh so I think a great time to score and the momentum was then with us,” said Flanagan, who was then asked his thoughts at the break.

“With us going down the hill, we’ll have more opportunities to score and I think that was evident, especially in the first period of the second half but we didn’t want to get caught in behind. We didn’t think Lafayette would hurt us in behind so get high up the pitch, get our midfield three on the ball and could we move it wide and could we get crosses into the box?”

Dartford created the first opening of the second half after just 57 seconds.

Bonner found himself in the left-back position before launching the ball up to Cunnington, who flicked the ball down and the ball bounced to an unmarked Allen, who sliced his shot wide of the right-hand post from 25-yards.

Clifford whipped in a deep free-kick into the Dartford box from the right and the ball sailed over Wynter but Watt failed to steer his header on target from a very tight angle.

Wealdstone were to be denied the lead, just 242 seconds into the second half.

Arnold played the ball inside to Clifford, who fed Watt, who hit a curling shot on the turn from a couple of yards inside the Dartford box, forcing Mark Smith to get down low to his right and use a strong right hand to push the ball towards safety.

“It was a good save at an important time as well. Even though we let four in, I can’t think of too many more saves to be fair to him. He didn’t have an amazing amount of work to do but I felt he made the save look comfortable,” said Flanagan.

Shortly afterwards, Hayes delivered a left-footed free-kick into the Wealdstone penalty area from a central position but Cunnington rose to glance his header into Oxborough’s gloves from 12-yards for a routine catch.

Dartford were now bossing the game and were denied the lead in the ninth minute as they went route one again.

Keeper Smith launched a big kick straight down the middle and Cunnington rose above his marker to flick the ball across the face of the penalty area but midfielder Amos Nasha drilled a low shot towards goal, forcing the debutant keeper to get down low to his right to make a vital save.

“It was a good shot and a good height for their keeper. I felt actually he should’ve drove on into the box with it and maybe look to draw the keeper out but it was a good height and he made a comfortable save,” said Flanagan.

Clifford looped in a free-kick from the left-touchline which was poorly dealt with by Wanadio at the far post and this gave Phillips a chance as the former Maidstone United man weaved his way into the box before lashing his left-footed shot over the bar from 16-yards.

Dartford were now on the front foot and knocking on the door to take the lead in the 62nd minute.

Nasha played the ball into a deep Cunnington, who slipped the ball back to Greenhalgh, who hit a diagonal pass over to Wanadio. He used his trickery to reach the by-line before hanging over a deep cross for Allen to plant his diving header over the crossbar from six-yards.

“It was a great bit of skill by Luke Wanadio out wide and when the cross came in it looked like it was getting away from Luke Allen but he got up well and he tried to direct it as best he could but unfortunately it went over,” said Flanagan.

The Stones were a threat on the counter-attack and Green played a ball over the top of left-back Luke Warner-Eley to release substitute striker Jacob Mendy down the right channel but he was never going to trouble Mark Smith from a crazy angle.

Allen broke up a Wealdstone raid by tackling Connor Smith close to the half-way line before releasing Hayes with a fine pass but the Dartford winger curled his shot over the top of the far post as he advanced towards the edge of the box.

There was only going to be one winner at this stage of the game as Dartford were by far on the front foot.

But disaster struck as Wealdstone grabbed the lead – totally against the run of play – with 29 minutes and 46 seconds on the clock.

The ball was hit up to Lafayette, who hooked the ball over to substitute left-winger Dennon Lewis, who cut inside and drilled in a cross with his right-boot which bounced off Greenhalgh’s knee and rolled past a flat-footed Mark Smith trickled apologetically into the Dartford net.

“He toe poked it across and it hits Ben’s knee as he comes across to add pressure and unfortunately it goes in but these things happen,” admits Flanagan, who didn’t deserve to suffer such ill-luck as his side were on top at the time.

“They hadn’t shown anything up until that point to probably be winning and the chances that had come had been more our way so for them they’re very happy that they’ve got that goal.”

Dartford did not have the character to recover from this massive set-back and capitulated as Wealdstone scored their third goal with 34 minutes and 51 seconds on the clock.

Bonner charged down another drive from Lewis and the ball flashed behind for a corner and Wealdstone scored from their fourth of six flag-kicks.

Green swung the ball in from the right and centre-half Stevens found a pocket of space at the near post to glance his header over a crowded penalty area and watched the ball sail into the top far corner.

Flanagan said: “A free header by their guy. Josh Hill and Jordan Wynter wasn’t tight enough and it's cost us a goal and that was probably the most disappointing thing because at 2-1 I felt we could still get back into the game. We had plenty of time but that third goal was probably the nail in the coffin really.”

Green smacked a left-footed half-volley towards the bottom far corner from 25-yards, forcing the Dartford keeper to dive to his right to save.

Efete threw the ball to Jake Sheppard, who cut into the Dartford box, before cutting the ball back to Efete, who fed Phillips, but his weak shot from 25-yards was gobbled up by Mark Smith.

Dartford centre-half Hill went missing as Wealdstone completed their scoring with 40 minutes and 25 seconds on the clock.

Arnold whipped in a lovely cross from the right which was superbly trapped by Lafayette, who turned before drilling his left-footed shot past Smith to find the bottom right-hand corner from a central position from 18-yards.

“We were not tight enough to Lafayette. I felt our centre-halves struggled with him all game. I thought he was very good today against Tom Bonner and Josh Hill,” admitted Flanagan.

“I thought he asked them lots of questions and I think he won that battle and we’ve given him far too much space on the edge of the box and he’s turned and able to get a shot off before we can get a block in.”

Greenhalgh swept the ball out to Hayes on the right, who cut the ball onto his left-boot before floating over a deep cross but Andy Pugh’s diving header flashed past the left-hand post from six-yards.

Substitute striker Pugh was given a six minute cameo at the end of the game and he was wasteful in possession which saw him gift the ball straight to Jacob Mendy Mendy, who skipped past three Dartford men before testing Mark Smith from sixteen-yards, the keeper diving to his right to make the save.

“Pughie’s not had 90 minutes for the whole of pre-season so it’s very much trying to manage him and try to get him some match time,” explained Flanagan.

“I thought his first few passes were under hit but he showed in the time that he was on, he got into good areas and if we can pick him out he will hopefully turn those chances into goals.”

Chelmsford City, Hemel Hempstead Town and Wealdstone all won their games 4-1 and the Stones travel to Dulwich Hamlet on Tuesday night, who came away from Tonbridge Angels with a 2-1 win today and sit in sixth-place after one outing.

Dartford are in the bottom four tonight and welcome thirteenth-placed St Albans City to Princes Park Stadium on Tuesday night. The Saints were held to a goal-less home draw by Chippenham Town.

“I’d say probably maybe until their second goal,  it was a performance I feel we could go on and win,” said Flanagan.

“After that a bit of misfortune for their second goal, but that’s kind of the way things have gone for us at the moment and then the last 10 minutes I felt we let ourselves down a little bit. We let a goal in from a set-piece, which is very frustrating and then we’ve let a fourth goal in as well.

“The last 10 minutes of the game is a period of time which is crying out for us to review and for the players’ to have a look at and a think.”

But with seven more games to come in August, Dartford don’t have to wait too long to bounce back.

“Our home form was good last year and we need it to be good again this year,” said Flanagan.

“It’s a quick chance to maybe put the pain of today away.

“St Albans will be better than last year and I think they will be strong going forward, so we need a big performance.”

Flanagan gave an update on four injured players.

“Sam Blackman won’t be back playing until March probably, Alex Flisher, Charlie Sheringham and Lee Noble maybe the next two or four weeks and Darren McQueen probably four to six weeks.”

Wealdstone: Aston Oxborough, Nick Arnold, Michee Efete, Michael Phillips, Connor Stevens, Jerome Okimo, Billy Clifford (Jacob Mendy Mendy 64), Connor Smith (Jake Sheppard 70), Ross Lafayette, Danny Green, Sanchez Watt (Dennon Lewis).
Subs: Joe Ringer, Reece Beckles-Richards

Goals: Ross Lafayette 9 (penalty), 86, Ben Greenhalgh 75 (own goal), Connor Stevens 80

Booked: Danny Green 31

Dartford: Mark Smith, Jordan Wynter, Luke Warner-Eley, Ben Greenhalgh, Josh Hill, Tom Bonner, Ryan Hayes, Luke Allen (Norman Wabo 71), Adam Cunnington (Andy Pugh 84), Amos Nasha, Luke Wanadio.
Subs: Ronnie Vint, Cameron Brodie

Goal: Josh Hill 45

Booked: Amos Nasha 22

Attendance: 930
Referee: Mr Robert Massey-Ellis (Coventry, West Midlands)
Assistants: Mr Russell Jones (Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire) & Mr Michael Mackey (Enfield, Middlesex)