Dartford 4-0 Fleet – Ebbsfleet United Football Club
Fleet suffered a New Year’s defeat as Dartford took the points in a celebratory double, a late second half with goals robbing the visitors of any chance of a comeback.
Fleet had conceded to an Alex Wall goal in the first half but almost equalized in a game after the break 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 who dropped out of the starting eleven.
Avoiding the pitfalls of the early conceding last time, Fleet defended the first Dartford chance well, Samir Carruthers’ free-kick being pushed aside by Mark Cousins at the foot of the post after five minutes. Cousins was to the fore again when a corner was headed over and Jordan Wynter rose highest, with Alex Wall and Tom Bonner in attendance, and Cousins produced an acrobatic block as the ball pinged around the six-yard box.
Fleet responded when Luke O’Neill’s low drive across the area skidded past the far post and was tipped aside for a corner. In a physical encounter, Dartford earned many set pieces early on and the referee was called upon more than once to sort out the usual series of six-yard box disputes.
Martin was forced off after 23 minutes with a knock, Greg Cundle his replacement. Haydn Hollis got his head in the way of a fierce effort from Carruthers on 26 minutes before O’Neill slipped a pass through from wide to Craig Tanner at the other end, whose attempt to play it low past Dan Wilks was just wide – and then the flag was raised nonetheless.
But Darten took the lead just before half-time when one of the set-pieces paid off. There was some luck for the home side after Carruthers’ quick free-kick was played back to Malachi Napa and then a ricochet sent it into the path of Wall who made no mistake as he fired with conviction to smash past Cousins.
A misplaced clearance into Napa’s path almost let Wall through again, but the ball went slightly wide and this time the Darts goalscorer was shut down.
Fleet responded on 38 minutes when Dominic Poleon broke free on the stroke of half-time and was taken out by Connor Essam, and the defender was shown a yellow card for it. However, Tanner delivered the free-kick on goal, but into Wilks’ middle, and Dartford looked half-goal to the good.
The second half exploded into life on 54 minutes as Hollis and then Finney climbed high to head the ball on goal. It landed behind Wilks before being hacked clear with the visitors convinced the ball had crossed the line, but crucially the referee and his assistant were less so. Jombati tried to be sure with the follow-up, but Darten got away with it too.
Poleon went so close as Fleet enjoyed their best period of the game, his near post shot on target but Wilks got in the way. The visitors had more possession later in the half, with Dartford receiving a number of cautions, and Tanner’s wide-angle free-kick was collected by the keeper – but Fleet couldn’t pick the lock when Omari Sterling-James came on. for the injured Luke O’Neill.
Kristian Campbell sent a free header wide from a Dartford corner with 20 minutes remaining, but they made the game safe three minutes later with a quick counter-attack. With Fleet pushing for an equalizer but then losing possession, Darts got away down the left and Luke Coulson picked out Napa in space on the opposite side and he buried a shot past Cousins.
Fleet sent on Darren McQueen for some extra attacking drive and Bingham’s turn and shot swung wide of the post with 15 minutes remaining. But any lingering hope vanished after 82 minutes when a free-kick from the left was met with a powerful close-range header by substitute Charlie Sheringham for a Dartford three. The fourth was added in similar fashion, a firm delivery that again unsettled the fleet from the same side, and Essam cruised home to complete a joyous week for the Dart. But it is one the fleet must 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. Unused substitutes: N’Guessan, Coulthirst
DFC: Wilks, Wynter, Campbell, Carruthers (Murtagh 90), Essam, Bonner, Coulson, Wall (Sheringham 68), Statham, Smith, Napa (Fonkeu 87). Subs: Allen, Rodari
Vote for the man of the match below.