Dartford were looking to get back to winning ways after a run of four games without tasting victory when they welcomed Hungerford Town to Princes Park. With the ever-reliable Charlie Sheringham unavailable, new signing Phil Roberts was handed his full debut since joining from Hemel Hempstead Town.
Co-boss Jamie Coyle called for his side to stay in the play-off hunt during the festive period and it was his side, after James Rusby had stung the palms of Bailey Vose, that started on the front foot.
Striker Jamie Philpot, who has struggled for a run in the team since the arrival of Sheringham, made no mistake when he headed home at the far post from a deep Ben Greenhalgh free-kick with just 10 minutes on the clock.
Going a goal down so early was the last thing Hungerford boss Ian Herring would’ve hoped for with his side low on confidence. Despite being rooted at the bottom of the National league south table, however, the visitors made the Darts work hard in the first-half.
They tested Colchester loanee Vose in the Dartford goal on a few occasions without really troubling the ‘keeper. Josh Martin must’ve thought he’d levelled the contest when he rose the highest in the box but his header was cleared off the line by Greenhalgh with Vose well beaten.
A long ball forward by Lee Noble caused all sorts of problems for the visitors as Roberts raced clear before being brought down by Cameron Hargreaves. Whilst the Crusaders protested their man’s innocence, on another day the referee may have given Hargreaves his marching orders as last man.
Noble was the provider once again but this time Daniel Johnson didn’t make as strong enough connection with his glancing header that whistled past the post.
It always felt as if the Darts would be the master of their own downfall if the visitors drew level and Ronnie Vint nearly gifted them that opportunity but Darren Foxley failed to capitalise as he shot straight into the arms of Vose.
Vint nearly made amends at the other end but couldn’t quite sort his feet out after the ball dropped at his feet following a Greenhalgh corner. Philpot had a final half-chance to hammer home the advantage before the break but he opted to head back across goal rather than attempt to beat Birmingham City loanee Jake Weaver for a second time during the contest.
Half-time: Dartford 1-0 Hungerford Town
Whilst the first-half action wouldn’t have made the highlight reel editor work too hard, the second-half was one of even less quality action as both sides failed to maintain any sort of tempo in their play.
The next goal seemed sure to settle the contest, making the 1 goal advantage a precarious line for the hosts to tread especially with this fixture seen as a ‘must-win’ game to keep in touch at the top.
Joint bosses Coyle and Adam Flanagan threw Ryan Hayes on just after the hour mark and ten minutes later he played a big part in cementing the hosts’ advantage. There was certainly an element of controversy in the goal after Martin went down with a head injury in the Dartford box but the hosts will argue that Romone Rose opted to play-on for the away side.
Greenhalgh showed an impressive turn of pace to power away past Alfy Whittingham on the half-way line before Hayes forced Weaver into an excellent save. The ball, however, fell to the feet of Greenhalgh once more and his lofted cross fell straight into the path of Noble who smashed the ball home.
Philpot could well have had a hat-trick on the afternoon but headed wastefully wide after Mark Onyemah’s surging run forward from left-back produced a fine cross to the far post where the former Millwall striker found himself unmarked.
Vose showed bravery down the other end just minutes later as he got down well to deny Darren Foxley following a goal-mouth scramble but was helpless to prevent Marvel Ekpiteta’s towering header from a corner in stoppage time after he broke free from his marker.
Full-time: Dartford 2-1 Hungerford Town
Dartford now go on to face noisy neighbours Welling United on Boxing Day, one of the highlights of the footballing calendar for both sets of fans. Whilst their performance was far from the one Coyle and Flanagan would’ve desire they got the job done, one of the key themes of this side.
With both teams pushing for a place in the top six this local derby is set-up to be an absolute belter of a clash…
Dartford: Vose, Johnson, Vint, Bonner, Onyemah; Greenhalgh, Noble, Wynter, Coker; Philpot, Roberts.
Hungerford: Weaver, Martin, Jones, Rusby, Ekpiteta, Moore-Azille, Anderson, Hargreaves, Orsi-Dadomo, Whittingham, Foxley.
Man of the match: Ben Greenhalgh
Written by Henry Clark (@HenryWAClark)