Preview: Dartford – New Year’s Day

For many clubs, the local rivalry will all be over after the first day of 2023 – but for the Fleet and Dartford it is likely to continue long past January 1st as the second-half of the season develops atop the Vanarama National League South.

It’s advantage Fleet as far as the table is concerned going into Part Two of the North Kent derby if you choose to focus on games in hand but after the Darts’ win at the Kuflink Stadium, they will argue it’s their advantage in terms of momentum and points in the bag. Ultimately, that argument is moot and the only advantage either side will care about is the one on April 29th.

Both managers are on record as saying neither North Kent derby will determine the season’s outcome – after the dust has settled on the forthcoming Princes Park encounter, the Fleet will have 23 games played and 23 remaining, with Dartford having 20 to play.

For the Fleet, it’s all about the points this Sunday and putting behind them the Boxing Day encounter when the first 11 minutes of that one made life extremely difficult for the home side thereafter. Dennis Kutrieb and his players have been working flat out to avenge that one throughout the week and are eager to get back amongst it six days on.

Fleet will be looking for a similar start to 2023 as they enjoyed in 2022 – when Ben Chapman’s late goal proved the difference in the year’s first encounter with the Darts.

It’s a rare occasion when the same team wins both North Kent derbies – Dartford came close in 2012/13 when a 3-1 win at Princes Park on Boxing Day was followed by a 2-0 lead in the New Year game, before Nathan Elder’s late, late equaliser. It was 1981 the last time anybody completed a league double, Fleet winning both Alliance Premier fixtures 1-0 that year. And the season before that, it was Dartford’s turn to do the double.

Franklin Domi was one of Fleet’s changes for the Boxing Day game

The Darts sprung a surprise with the return of Dan Wilks in goal after recalling him from his loan period at Hayes & Yeading in their only lineup change at the Kuflink Stadium. They are likely to be without Sam Odaudu for their home fixture, however, after he limped off on Boxing Day. Stevenage loanee Jack Smith replaced him, while Dartford also have the likes of Keiran Murtagh and strikers Pierre Fonkeu, Davide Rodari and Charlie Sheringham to call upon should Alan Dowson fancy shuffling his pack.

With the Darts, Fleet and Havant having all scored 50 goals apiece, it’s tight at the top of the table and Dowson’s side have now taken maximum points from visits to both the Hawks and ourselves in their last two games. A third such result would give them a festive return beyond their expectations – and it’s the visitors’ job now to stop that.

The Fleet’s one win from seven at Princes Park came in 2015 when Jordan Parkes scored the only goal of the game and the previous league triumph on Dartford soil came at Watling Street in 1983. But as the Darts showed on Boxing Day, this season records are there to be broken as they came away from Stonebridge Road with their first league win since 1979 – and the five goals recorded was a change from a series of low-scoring affairs between the sides.

This is an all-ticket game. Online tickets are available until the extended deadline of 1pm Sunday from the Dartford ticketing website here.


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