Dartford 1 Fleet 1

Eighteen years in the making, the first north Kent derby of the 2010-11 season ends all square…

Billed as one of north Kent’s most eagerly-awaited fixtures in recent memory, it was perhaps fitting that neither side claimed the bragging rights in their first league clash for 18 years. Perhaps more fitting, however, was that the crowd of 2,781 was the highest not just in Blue Square South but in all of non-league football this afternoon, outperforming the likes of Darlington, Wrexham and Mansfield.

Many of Fleet’s squad were probably in nappies the last time these sides met but the pre-match banter will have told them all they needed to know about the fixture. Liam Daish made only one change, starting Gravesend-born Craig Stone for the first time this season at the expense of Tyron Sealey. And it was Stone who almost had his side out of the blocks in the first minutes when a good move saw him thud a low shot against the post.

Neither side took the game by the scruff of the neck in the early exchanges but Fleet were first to settle into their stride, Calum Willock a constant thorn in the side of Joe Bruce who deservedly won Darts’ man of the match for his battle with the big number nine. Fleet’s link-up play was much better than against Dover, Michael West and Willock creating plenty of problems for the home side, while Ashley Carew and Ram Marwa got stuck into the action in the middle.

And Fleet really should have buried two or three good chances in the first half, in particular when Willock took down a cross from West and lobbed goalkeeper John Whitehouse. The ball looked destined for the back of the net but Dartford’s Tom Bonner appeared from nowhere to clear off the line. Stone was injecting a little more guile and guts in the middle and the visitors had other efforts hacked off the line and scrambled out of the six-yard box with Tom Phipp and West going close, while Willock was again foiled late in the half by a combination of Whitehouse and Bonner.

The Darts had their own chances and Fleet looked vulnerable to the counterattack. Ryan Hayes twice found space down the right to flash two efforts across goal that had strikers Charlie Sheringham and Lee Burns stretching. Their best chance fell to Danny Harris when a clearance fell to him and he fought off the challenge of two defenders to deliver a cross-cum-shot that flew towards the far post but eluded Burns’ outstretched leg. Harris looked dangerous throughout for the Darts and Chris Henry had to be constantly alert in the first half, a job which he performed very well on such a stage.

The home side had certainly come back into the game more towards the end of the first half but they took their foot off the gas at the start of the second. The Fleet looked fairly comfortable as they probed in midfield, looking to release Willock. But it was from a Darts attack that the Fleet created the opening goal. A free-kick on the edge of the Fleet box was hoisted clear by Dean Pooley and as Derek Duncan raced away with it down the line, he was upended by Hayes. Carew swung a free-kick deep into the Dartford box and West rose highest in front of the Fleet following to power a header past Whitehouse for his fourth goal of the season.

That goal arrived on the hour mark but it also signalled the end of Fleet’s control of the game when, five minutes later, Pooley crumpled under a challenge from Sheringham and after treatment was stretchered from the field. Fleet’s threadbare squad could only muster left-back Clint Easton to fill the gap left by Pooley and it upset Fleet’s rhythm as Dartford started to look much more sure of themselves going forwards.

Indeed how Burns missed a glorious chance after a clever exchange of passes with Hayes unlocked the Fleet defence will likely be the main talking point of the game as he simply had to sidefoot the ball past Edwards but the Fleet goalkeeper did well to guess right and dive low to save a weak shot. Fleet bounced back on the break and Willock’s header was clawed away from the post by Whitehouse for a corner.

But a couple of Darts substitutions bolstered their attacking impetus.The referee turned down a penalty appeal after Elliot Bradbrook went down beneath a Duncan challenge on 72 minutes but moments later he pointed to the spot when Paul Lorraine was adjudged to have held down Harris on the edge of the box. Edwards could not improve on his penalty-saving record this season as Sheringham struck a sweet penalty to equalise.

Fleet brought on Joe Benjamin but they were mainly on the back foot in the final quarter of an hour and with better supply from the wasteful Hayes, the Darts could well have taken all three points. But with Edwards in great, commanding form, the makeshift Fleet back line held firm and the game ended all square – an ultimately fair result but one where both sides will likely dwell on their missed opportunities.

Preston Edwards won Dover man of the match with 44% of the vote. Who stood the tallest at Dartford today? Vote [ HERE ].

TEAM: Edwards, Henry, Duncan, Carew, Pooley (Easton 66), Lorraine, West, Marwa, Willock, Phipp (Benjamin 79), Stone. Subs not used: Hagan, Sherlock, Sealey.
Att: 2,781

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