Dartford 1- 1 Wealdstone
1 - 1
Wealdstone came to the theatre that is Princes Park on Saturday facing a side that had confidently swept aside their previous four opponents, proudly sitting on top of the Ryman Premier. In a highly entertaining encounter Stones amply demonstrated to the 1,158 crowd that they had not turned up to provide fodder for another Darts victory. Stones put in an awesome performance in the first half that built the platform for a hugely deserved point, withstanding sustained pressure from a stung home side in the second period.
In a surprise change to the midweek Boreham Wood line up, there was a return to the midfield for the previously injured Chris O’Leary who slotted in to a bold five man midfield with Charlie Mpi the lone striker. This tactic worked a treat for most of the match and Stones were able to snuff out a physical Darts midfield using O’Leary’s strength and aerial ability to very positive effect. And whilst Mpi ploughed a lone furrow for long periods the sacrifice was ultimately worth it with great support play from Kieron Forbes, Danny Spendlove, Ryan Ashe and the effervescent Marvin McCoy in particular.
Stones rocked Darts with a well crafted goal after only 40 seconds play. Quick thinking from a rapidly taken free kick by Lee Chappell brought a smart save from Andrew Young in the Dartford goal. Ryan Ashe delivered the resultant corner and the Darts defence stood and watched as Chris O’Leary rose and powered in a near post header leaving Young helpless.
A dramatic start that caught the Darts cold but they hit back almost immediately when a speculative shot crashed off Sean Thomas’s crossbar. And the crowd gasped as within a minute the home side went close again, with Stones countering with a great run from Mpi and a Forbes strike that was just as close.
A good run and cross down the left flank by Chappell gave the chance for Mpi to head over as Stones turned up the heat on Darts who were clearly ruffled by the attacking shape and pace of Stones moves. Darts hit back with wind assisted long raking balls smashed forward with some accuracy but Alan Massey and the rapidly adjusting Rob Fitzgerald held firm with some great interceptions.
Young then brought off a good stop from Ashe and still the game was only 10 minutes old. Ryan Hayes for Dartford and Lee Burns looked dangerous in build up play but were finding progress in open play difficult with Stones chasing down possession in packs. Stones continued to dominate, pressing the ball and using the pace of McCoy and Mpi to great effect as the half wore on.
Sean Thomas was called into action on 36 minutes with one of many fine saves, tipping over a 40 yard free kick.
The half ended with the combative O’Leary being booked for a midfield challenge and Dartford needing a rethink.
Stones had the wind at their backs as the half opened relatively evenly with both sides vying for effective possession. Darts Manager Tony Burman had clearly given strict instructions for his team to turn up the wick as the crowd grew restless and demanded a goal.
The away side inevitably started to come under greater pressure and Mpi found less forward supporting play and the ball began to ping back into the Stones danger areas with more frequency. Ryan Hayes was proving a handful on the right as he enjoyed more space as Massey and Fitzgerald mopped up under pressure with only sporadic counter attacks mid half.
Stones were now living dangerously as Darts piled forward in search of the equaliser as Thomas again came to the rescue with an outstanding save from Burns.
Finally Darts found the breakthrough on 64 minutes as Lee Burns didn’t spurn a great shooting chance just outside the area. Sean Thomas got down well but the strike had too much power and the ball squirmed over the line for 1-1
The partisan crowd now sensed victory and livened up considerably, taunting the 120 away contingent. Stones favourite non striker Rob Howarth joined the fray to bolster Burman’s attacking options but was promptly booked as Stones dug in.
Stones Manager Gordon Bartlett then introduced Greg Ngoyi for Kieron Forbes and then Calum Botham for Danny Spendlove to strengthen the forward areas.
But Stones still found possession at a premium as Darts took control in a difficult period for the away side that nonetheless defended ferociously. In an interesting further change for Stones, Jimmy Gray came on for the tiring Charlie Mpi who had run himself into the ground.
Gray’s greater cunning in the challenge paid a big dividend as he immediately won more ball with his aggression and suddenly Stones found some relief as the game reached its conclusion. In fact Gray almost stole in for the winner with a great turn of pace but just over ran the ball past a worried Young as Ngoyi also went close.
Stones will be delighted with a point at a ground where few sides will prosper on the evidence of this encounter. Next up for Wealdstone is Sutton United at The Vale on Bank Holiday Monday kick off 3pm.
Wealdstone: Thomas, McCoy, Chappell, Fitzgerald, Massey, Ashe, Forbes, O’Leary, Mpi, E’Beyer, Spendlove. Subs used: Ngoyi, Botham, Gray. N/u: Osborne, Beagle (GK)