Dartford 3 Fleet 1

The Fleet crashed to Boxing Day defeat against Dartford after failing to make first-half possession pay.

In the first Boxing Day clash between the two rivals since 1989, Liam Enver-Marum gave The Fleet a second-half lead before two goals from Harry Crawford and a goal from Elliot Bradbrook gave the hosts victory.

The Fleet were playing their first game since a 4-1 loss away to Mansfield on 8th December, and Liam Daish made three changes to this side, with Paul Lorraine, Nathan Elder and Lanre Azeez returning to the starting XI to replace Ryan Blake, Matthew Godden and Ashley Carew respectively.

Dartford, meanwhile, fielded a 4-4-2 formation that featured ex-Fleet striker Jacob Erskine.

The Darts had lost four consecutive league games before this match, and The Fleet looked to take advantage of any low confidence by imposing themselves on the game straight from kick-off. The match?s first chance fell to Lorraine, who had a shot cleared off the line by Tom Bonner after home goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli had failed to deal with a cross.

Liam Bellamy then had a volley from the edge of the area that was saved comfortably by Bettinelli.

The Fleet dominated early possession, but were unable to create any more clear cut chances, meaning Dartford eventually began to make a mark in the match. Bradbrook headed a Ryan Hayes free-kick over the bar, whilst, at the other end of the pitch, Lorraine had an audacious overhead kick that flew wide of the goal.

The half eventually became even and, with both sides cheered on by vociferous fans, play was often fraught with mistakes from tense-looking players. Neither side managed to keep the ball for long periods as passes often went astray.

As the half meandered to a close, Elder almost opened the scoring as he flicked the ball across goal with his head, yet it went just wide of the post.

The second-half started like the first, with The Fleet on top. However, this time they did make possession pay as a long ball downfield found Enver-Marum, who chased down his own flick-on and beat one defender before firing in a low angled shot across goal. The shot was not the most powerful in the world, and perhaps Bettinelli should have saved it, yet the ball slid under his dive and into the net.

The goal boosted The Fleet?s confidence, and Enver-Marum then went on a winding run that ended up with a shot flying across goal and wide, whilst a great cross from Azeez found Elder, whose diving header was saved by Bettinelli.

However, as with the first-half, Dartford once again found a foothold in the match, and equalised when a through ball from Bonner found Crawford, who managed to round Preston Edwards and roll the ball into an empty net.

As the home side celebrated, Fleet heads dropped and Dartford soon began to dominate possession. Erskine had two good chances to give his side a lead, as he first flicked the ball across goal and wide, and then should have done better with a volley from close range that wildly flew off his boot and wide.

The Fleet did still carry somewhat of a threat going forward, and could have taken the lead when a deep corner by Tom Phipp found Lorraine at the back post, but his downward header hit the post and went wide.

This was as good as it got for Ebbsfleet as Dartford soon took the lead. A well-worked passing move gave Lee Burns space on the right wing, and he cut inside along the byline before supplying a great pass that allowed Crawford to finish with aplomb from 12-yards.

It was 3-1 and game over 12 minutes later, when Bradbrook made the most of time and space given to him by The Fleet defence with a well-taken 20-yard shot that flew past Edwards and into the top corner.

The Fleet were unable to get back into the match, with the best opportunity falling to Phipp late on, as his powerful shot from the edge of the box was well parried by Bettinelli.

Having had more shots on goal than their opponents, Liam Daish may look back on this match and wonder what could have been if his side had made the most of the early opportunities that came their way, yet will also be forced to reflect on what was ultimately a deserved victory for Dartford.

The Fleet will be looking to gain revenge for this match on New Year?s Day, when they host Dartford in the return fixture. In between now and then is the small matter of Luton Town away on Saturday 29th December.

TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Howe, Walsh, Lorraine, Barrett, Bellamy, Phipp, Azeez, Elder (Greenhalgh 76), Enver-Marum. Subs not used: Menz, Blake, Williams, Folkes.
Att: 3,116

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