Thursday 01st September 2005

Darts impress in front of their best home crowd

Saturday 26th
November 2005
FA Trophy
Third Qualifying Round
Stephen McCartney reports from Stonebridge Road
Dartford 0  
AFC Wimbledon 0  

Dartford earned themselves another lucrative game with AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday night, but they did create good chances to knock out their Ryman Premier League visitors during this entertaining game at Stonebridge Road today, writes Stephen McCartney.

With five-goal striker Jim Carter at home in bed suffering from 'flu, Ian Pulman worked tirelessly up front on his own, and the rest of his team-mates, supported by passionate fans, kept the Dons at bay.

The kick-off was delayed for ten minutes to allow all the 1,082 fans - the club's second highest at Stonebridge Road - to take up their places and a minutes silence was observed for former Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend George Best, who died in a west London hospital yesterday afternoon.

A game, which was played in a superb atmosphere, and you can thank the huge Dartford following for that, saw it's first chance of the game come within three minutes but visiting skipper Steve Butler headed Simon Sibohy's free kick into the grateful arms of Darts stopper Kevin Hudson.

And another chance came their way after 16 minutes when Tommy Osborne and his goalkeeper didn't deal with a ball on the edge of the penalty area and Hudson's chested clearance was picked up by Richard Butler but his low shot lacked conviction and Richard Avery, in the goal mouth, was able to clear.

And former Margate and Erith & Belvedere striker, Pulman, twice went close to giving the Southern Leaguers the lead in as many minutes.

His first effort, from 20-yards, flew just over and after exchanging passes with Steve Hafner, his low shot was comfortably dealt with by goalkeeper Andy Little.

The Dartford players weren't overawed by playing in front of their biggest crowd since the club's FA Cup clash with landlords Gravesend & Northfleet during their first season at Stonebridge Road, and another chance came their way after 25 minutes.

Ryan Briggs' free kick found an unmarked Avery at the far post and his header across goal was met by Pulman who stabbed the ball towards goal, but the Dons fans behind the goal were relived to see it go just over.

But Darts 38-year-old goalkeeper Kevin Hudson made a fine save nine minutes later when he stuck out his left foot to deny Dwayne Plummer who got behind the home side's defence.

AFC Wimbledon almost scored from their first corner of the game after 40 minutes but defender Anthony Howard headed straight at Hudson following Barry Moore's set piece.

And on the stroke of half-time, confident Darts should have taken the lead.  The players were surprised to see Hudson's poorly taken low goal kick find its way to winger Dave Martin, and the impressive talent, signed from Kent League neighbours Slade Green, raced towards goal but his angled drive flashed just wide of the far post.

Then, Hafner, saw his left-footed 25-yard effort sail just over the bar.

Heavy sleet greeted the players for the second half and Moore's free kick within two minutes of the restart left Hudson rooted to the spot, but the shot crashed into the red hoarding behind the goal.

And with 19 minutes left Plummer played in Richard Butler but his shot rolled comfortably to Hudson.

The Dartford manager must start both wing wizards Dave Martin and 75th minute substitute Ryan Hayes at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday night, as their pace, ability and skill frightens every defender they face.

Martin's corner was met by Anthony Henry, who came up from the back, but his shot slid wide.

Eddie McClements was strong in the tackle and carved open a chance for substitute Hayes but his shot lacked conviction and rolled wide.

The Darts fans were urging their heroes to score the winner, with Avery glancing Osborne's free kick wide and Hafner shooting over from distance.

However, their best chance fell at the death when Martin's over hit corner was retrieved by Henry and his cross was flicked on by Avery but former Gravesend & Northfleet midfielder McClements was denied by Little when he should have done a lot better.

Speaking in the post match press conference, Darts boss Tony Burman told"I think I was right to play down (our chances) because they're a good side."

"I knew they were going to be strong and play not bad football.  They've only lost four games this season and they're challenging for their division, and yes, we've given them a good game today.

"I'm pleased with the effort and performance.  I asked some of the players to play in a certain way.  I felt we needed to attack Wimbledon on the break, which we did in the first half and I thought we caused them some problems.

"I felt at half-time it should have been 2-1 to us on chances."

Burman, whose side have knocked out Kent rivals Dover Athletic and Margate in previous rounds, praised lone striker Pulman.

He said: "To be fair we've lost Jimmy Carter to 'flu first thing this morning.  He was a little bit iffy yesterday and he's confirmed it today and he's not here, he's at home in bed.

"Ian's come in, he didn't know he was playing, and done a great job.  Believe me it is hard when you are playing up front on your own."

Burman, however, was satisfied with his side's rousing last twenty minutes when they really should have settled the issue.

"It surprised me because I felt they (AFC Wimbledon) would be strong in the last 20 minutes," he admitted.  "This season we haven't gone the whole game so to speak in some games at home.

"I felt we did come on strong in the last 20 minutes and it was unfortunate at the death not to get a goal."

Burman was pleased his young players didn't wilt in front of their biggest crowd of the season.

He said: "We played in a controlled manner.  A lot of the lads have not played in front of a large crowd like today and have done very well."

Dartford: Kevin Hudson, Gary Carter, Tommy Osborne (Capt), Anthony Henry, Richard Avery, Kevin Spriggs, Ryan Briggs (Brad Potter 90), Ian Pulman (Ryan Hayes 75), Steve Hafner, Eddie McClements, Dave Martin.  Subs: Craig Maguire, Dominic Elmes, Lee Craig

AFC Wimbledon: Andy Little, Wes Daly, Michael Harvey, Anthony Howard, Steve Butler (Capt), Simon Sibohy, Chris Gell, Barry Moore, Richard Butler, Shane Smeltz, Dwayne Plummer.  Subs: Wayne Finnie, Matt Fowler, Mark King, Dave Sargent, Josh Lennie (GK)

Attendance: 1082
Referee: Mr John Lodge (Colchester)
Assistants: Mr Colin Allan (Colchester) & Mr David Nickerson (Colchester)