Dartford are two wins away from a return to the National League as they begin their playoff campaign against St Albans City at Princes Park on Sunday.
The two sides met just a fortnight ago and it was Dartford who claimed maximum points to secure second place and home advantage in the playoffs. This time the stakes are higher with a place in the final up for grabs and a shot at promotion.
Last time at Princes Park, the Darts got off to a quick start against the Saints going in front after just three minutes. Richard Chin had an excellent afternoon and the loanee set up Samir Carruthers for his tenth goal of the season. It took until the 72nd minute for St Albans City to equalise with Shaun Jeffers acrobatically striking the ball beyond Ben Dudzinski for yet another goal against the Darts, his third in as many appearances. Luke Coulson and Fonkeu may have started from the substitute’s bench, but the pair made an impact five minutes after St Albans City equalised. Coulson’s free-kick was saved by Dylan Berry and Fonkeu pounced to net the winner, his tenth league goal of the campaign.
The reverse fixture back in October ended with honours even. Jack Smith scored his first goal in a Dartford shirt and although it was an easy tap in, the Darts worked the ball forwards swiftly after gaining possession on the halfway line. St Albans City equalised after catching Dartford out with a quick throw in and when the ball fell to Jeffers, he took an air shot before drilling his second attempt beyond Joe Young.
Hosting the playoff semi-final could benefit Dartford who picked up 50 points at Princes Park this season, the second best in the division. However, the Kent side have lost their last three playoff matches at Princes Park. One of those defeats was against Chelmsford City in 2017, who the Saints defeated on Tuesday night. Manager, David Noble made one change to the side that beat Farnborough 2-0 last weekend bringing in Chay Cooper for Kyran Wiltshire. Once again the prolific Jeffers, who has scored 28 times in the National South this season was named on the bench. After ninety minutes neither side could break the deadlock forcing the tie to go into extra time. Finally it was Jeffers once again who prodded the ball into the Chelmsford City net to decide the tie in the 95th minute. The striker has now scored in each of his last three appearances after coming on as a substitute.
Both sides have experience of making it to playoff finals and Dartford will want to draw on the positive outcome back in 2012 when they beat local rivals Welling United, Lee Noble’s early strike sent Tony Burman’s side up to the National League. Whilst under Steve King, the Darts reached the final two years ago and lost on penalties. St Albans City have won the playoffs three times as far back as when the non-league pyramid was restructured in 2004. That year they were involved in two epic playoff encounters to earn entry into the new National South league, a 4-3 victory against Heybridge Swifts followed by a 5-4 triumph over Bedford Town. Two years later they won promotion to the National League with a win versus Histon and in 2014, the Saints made their way back to the National South by defeating Chesham United.
Since the turn of the year Dartford have been inconsistent and will need to win back to back matches for the first time since the festive period if they want to go up. On the final day of the season, Alan Dowson decided to rest nine players with only Richard Chin and Jernade Meade retaining their place in the starting eleven. That gave minutes to Charlie Sheringham who made his return from a long term injury just over two weeks ago. The striker, who had a successful spell with Chelmsford City, has scored seven times this season and is behind fellow forward Alex Wall, midfielder Samir Carruthers and Pierre Fonkeu all of which have hit double figures in all competitions. Dowse can also look towards Harvey Bradbury as an option, his short time at Dartford has yielded five goals in nine appearances. At the back Tom Bonner and Connor Essam have forged a strong partnership and it looks as though Ben Dudzinski is the preferred choice in goal. The trio were rested last weekend and with Dan Wilks in between the sticks, academy graduate George Whitefield and Emmanuel Adebowale making their National South debuts for the club, the Darts kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Hampton and Richmond Borough.
St Albans City finished their campaign strongly with a home win against Farnborough. That made sure David Noble’s side finished the season in sixth spot. Difficult to beat in the first couple of months of the season, St Albans City were too inconsistent and by the end of October they were in twelfth. However, the Hertfordshire side saw out the rest of 2022 with seven wins from nine, including a 6-0 away trouncing of Hampton and Richmond Borough and moved into fifth. A mediocre start to the New Year and a difficult February meant the Saints dipped below the dotted line, but they would rise again. The Saints have tasted defeat just twice in their last eleven outings winning seven of those.
Head to Head
Dartford wins: 12 / St Albans City wins: 6 / Draws: 6
|St Albans City
|Hampton & Richmond||A||0-0||Chelmsford City*||A||1-0^|
|St Albans City||H||2-1||Farnborough||H||2-0|
|Tonbridge Angels||A||1-0||Welling United||H||3-0|
|Taunton Town||H||0-1||Concord Rangers||A||2-1|
|Dover Athletic||H||2-1||Braintree Town||A||0-2|
|* Playoff eliminator round / ^ After extra time|
Last Six Meetings
Dartford 2 – 1 St Albans City (22/04/2023 – National South)
St Albans City 1 – 1 Dartford (22/10/2022 – National South)
Dartford 3 – 1 St Albans City (23/04/2022 – National South)
St Albans City 1 – 3 Dartford (14/08/2021 – National South)
Dartford 0 – 1 St Albans City (17/11/2020 – National South)
St Albans City 1 – 2 Dartford (07/03/2020 – National South)
- Dartford have not recorded consecutive win, draws or losses in their last 17 games
- The Darts have the best defence at home conceding the fewest in the division (19)
- Dartford scored in 87% of their games (40 out of 46), the second best in the National South
- Dartford finished with the third best defence in the league (50)
- St Albans City picked up the second most points away from home in the division (40)
- Against fellow playoff contenders St Albans City have the worst record (W2, D2, L6)
On This Day
A year ago, Dartford cruised to a 7-2 final day win down on the Sussex coast. The Darts brushed aside Eastbourne Borough in a dazzling display, and it all started when Dan Roberts opened the scoring. The Sports levelled through Charley Kendall, but with half an hour played Marcus Dinanga put Dartford in front, then six minutes later Kory Roberts extended the advantage. In the second-half Dartford netted three goals in a five-minute spell, Dinanga scored his second and Kalvin Kalala grabbed a quickfire brace. A seventh was added by Jordan Greenidge before Chris Whelpdale managed a consolation goal for the hosts. Six years ago, Dartford lost 2-1 against Chelmsford City in the playoff semi-final second leg. Louie Theophanous and Chris Dickson put Chelmsford City in command and there was only enough time for Duane Ofori-Acheampong to claim a consolation for the Darts.