Anthony Cook’s second-half equaliser should keep Fleet fans occupied for the next few days, with cup draws and replays sure to be the order of the day. The winger’s 65th-minute strike cancelled out Lee Noble’s first-half opener as Fleet were also left to rue an early penalty miss from Ben May.
Steve Brown made the expected changes, with Osei Sankofa replacing the injured Joe Howe, while Chris Sessegnon and Stacy Long made way for Alex Osborn and Billy Bricknell. Dartford were forced into several changes, playing two unrecognised ‘strikers’ up top in Danny Harris and Nathan Collier, while Josh Hill – with only one substitute appearance to his name this season – slotted in alongside former Fleet trialist Mat Mitchel-King in the centre of defence.
Fleet were quicker out of the blocks as Dartford looked like they hadn’t quite worked out their gameplan in the opening exchanges. McMahon delivered a free-kick in the first few minutes which skewed off Hill’s head and forced Alan Julian into a quick-reaction save.
But the Darts goalkeeper turned villain on 11 minutes when Cook sprung the offside trap from McMahon’s pass and as the bouncing ball troubled Lee Burns, the Fleet winger nipped in and was about take it round Julian when the goalkeeper brought him down. There was some debate about whether there was a covering defender – the general consensus being there wasn’t – but referee Kinseley opted for a yellow card after pointing to the spot.
With Bricknell’s penalty miss still fresh in the mind from last week, May stepped up to the mark but blasted his kick high over the crossbar to the delight of the visiting fans behind the goal.
Fleet continued to hold the upper hand and Bricknell and Cook both troubled the back line, with the latter again forcing Burns into a series of errors. Dartford’s chief tactic seemed to be balls out wide on the right to Ryan Hayes who enjoyed a fair amount of space in that area, but lashed two shots over the bar when he did get sight of goal.
As the wet weather worsened, so Fleet’s hold on the game loosened and Dartford pressed on, Collier only inches away from a low cross whipped in by Harris, while Preston Edwards watched a Lee Noble strike fly wide. But Noble was on hand seconds before half-time to turn the tie on its head. Darts skipper Elliot Bradbrook struck a goalbound shot that was kept out by an excellent Sankofa block but as it appeared the danger had passed, the rebound fell to Noble and he lashed it home to give the visitors a half-time lead.
Fleet’s desire to muster an assault on the Plough End goal took some time to get going in the second half as the derby match threatened to go the way of the weather and turn into a damp squib. But 20 minutes in, the home side got the lifeline they needed just at the point they looked bereft of hope. As the visitors defence stood off, Bricknell supplied a delivery that Cook met in the box and he drilled an accurate shot beyond Julian to awaken Stonebridge Road.
That gave the home side added impetus and only a few tired final balls from Osborn and May kept the Darts in it. Not that the visitors had settled for the point either and Dean Rance had to slide in with a vital tackle at the feet of Collier inside the Fleet box, while Hayes sent a header well wide from only six yards out.
Man of the match Shane Huke collapsed to the ground 10 minutes from time, holding the back of his leg, after he looked to have taken a kick from Harris – an injury that is likely to rule him out of Tuesday’s replay. And it was a replay that almost wasn’t needed as Fleet had two quickfire efforts in the final minutes. As they kept up the pressure around the Dartford box, McMahon played in substitute Sessegnon whose effort was well stopped by Julian and May looked like he was going to repeat his heroics from the Gosport game as he dug out the loose ball but it was deflected behind for a corner by Mitchel-King.
So the £12,000 prize money is deferred for another three days, but the clubs will net more than that in gate receipts courtesy of the replay – and both will have an eye on tomorrow’s FA Cup draw – as if Tuesday’s game needed any more spice added to the mix.
TEAM: Edwards, Sankofa, Palmer, McMahon, Lorraine, Huke (Sessegnon 79), Osborn (Thalassitis 85), Rance, May, Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Corcorn, Phipp, Long, Green.