The Fleet suffered a New Year defeat as Dartford took the points in a festive double, a late second-half burst of goals robbing the visitors of any chance of a comeback.
Fleet had trailed to a first-half Alex Wall goal but almost equalised in a goalmouth scramble after half-time before Dartford’s late rally put the game beyond them.
Dennis Kutrieb made four changes to the side that played the Boxing Day derby with Alex Finney making his first start since August alongside Toby Edser, Sido Jombati and Joe Martin. Dartford made two changes, Monday’s goalscorer Luke Allen one of those dropping out of the starting 11.
Avoiding the pitfalls of the early concession last time out, Fleet defended the first Dartford chance well, Samir Carruthers’ free-kick pushed aside by Mark Cousins at the foot of his post on five minutes. Cousins was to the fore once more when a corner was whipped across and Kristian Campbell rose highest, with Alex Wall and Tom Bonner in attendance, Cousins performing an acrobatic block as the ball pinged around in the six-yard box.
Fleet responded when Luke O’Neill’s low drive across the area skidded past the far post and was turned aside for a corner. In a physical encounter, Dartford earned plenty of set-pieces early on and the referee was called upon more than once to sort out the usual series of disagreements in six-yard boxes.
Martin was forced off on 23 minutes with a knock, Greg Cundle his replacement. Haydn Hollis got his head in the way of a fierce effort across goal by Carruthers on 26 minutes before O’Neill slipped a pass through from wide to Craig Tanner at the other end, whose attempt to poke it low past Dan Wilks was just off-target – and then the flag was raised anyway.
But the Darts took the lead just before the half-hour when one of those set-pieces paid off. There was a little good fortune for the home side after a quick free-kick from Carruthers to Malachi Napa benefitted from a ricochet that forwarded it into the path of Wall who made no mistake as he shot with conviction past Cousins at his near post.
A misplaced clearance into Napa’s path almost allowed Wall through again but the ball went a little wide and this time the Darts goalscorer was closed down.
Fleet responded on 38 minutes when Dominic Poleon got away on the break and was taken out by Connor Essam, with the defender sustaining a yellow card for that. However, Tanner delivered the free-kick on target but into Wilks’ midriff and Dartford saw out the half a goal to the good.
The second-half exploded into life on 54 minutes when Hollis and then Finney climbed high to head the ball on target. It landed behind Wilks before being hacked clear by Maxwell Statham with the visitors convinced the ball had crossed the line but crucially the referee and his assistant were less so. Jombati tried to make sure with the follow-up but the Darts got that away too.
Poleon then went close as Fleet enjoyed their best period of the game, his near post shot goalbound but for Wilks getting himself in the way of it. The visitors had more possession as the half wore on, with Dartford picking up a number of cautions, and Tanner’s free-kick from a wide angle was gathered by the goalkeeper – but Fleet couldn’t pick the lock as Omari Sterling-James came on for the injured Luke O’Neill.
Campbell sent a free header wide from a Dartford corner with 20 minutes left but they made the game safe three minutes later with a swift counterattack. As Fleet pressed for an equaliser, but then lost possession, the Darts got away down the left and Luke Coulson picked out Napa in space on the opposite side and he buried a shot beyond Cousins.
Fleet sent on Darren McQueen for some added attacking impetus and Bingham’s turn and shot swung wide of the post with 15 minutes remaining. But any lingering hopes evaporated on 82 minutes when a Coulson free-kick from the left was met with a powerful, close-range header by substitute Charlie Sheringham for a Dartford third. The fourth was added in similar fashion, a set-piece delivery again troubling the Fleet from the same side and Essam bounded in to head that home to complete a joyful week for the Darts. But it’s one the Fleet will need to quickly regroup from, starting against Weymouth at home on Saturday.
EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill (Sterling-James 64), Martin (Cundle 23), Finney, Jombati, Hollis, Solly, Edser, Tanner (McQueen 75), Bingham, Poleon. Subs not used: N’Guessan, Coulthirst
DFC: Wilks, Wynter, Campbell, Carruthers (Murtagh 90), Essam, Bonner, Coulson, Wall (Sheringham 68), Statham, Smith, Napa (Fonkeu 87). Subs: Allen, Rodari
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