A dogged defensive display gave Fleet their first league win in Dartford since 1983 as Jordan Parkes’ early goal and a backs-to-the-wall second-half performance kept Daryl McMahon’s side unbeaten and in second place.
There was one change to the line-up, with Matt Godden starting in place of John-Paul Kissock, meaning three former Darts faced off against their old club.
The home side began on the front foot but Fleet nosed ahead with their first real attack on seven minutes. Stuart Lewis did very well to keep possession as Callum McNaughton attempted to ferry the ball to safety and he got goal side of McNaughton to deliver a low cross from the right byline. Godden tried to direct it goalwards but it flew wide to Parkes and he was able to steer it home from eight yards.
That goal kept the Darts at bay for a while and Danny Kedwell’s flick on into Godden’s path saw the home defence again opened up but goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim intercepted. Lewis, Dean Rance and Robbie Willmott were heavily involved in giving the Fleet midfield the edge early on and Willmott laid a pass into Godden who turned and shot, causing Ibrahim problems, but the flag was up.
Dartford finished the half more strongly, however, and a good build-up on the half hour saw Ryan Hayes shoot from the flanks, forcing Brandon Hall into a smart save. Lee Noble went to ground in the box to loud appeals from the home fans but the referee wasn’t interested, before Tom Bradbrook raced through in a one-on-one with Clark, who got the better of him. Bradbrook was penalised for tugging at the former Dartford defender, the home side were furious and suddenly a rather tepid derby match was brought to life.
As the half came to a close, Ebou Adams stabbed a loose ball into the penalty area and Tom Bradbrook looked set to pounce as Hall required two efforts to gather the ball, but it fell kindly for the Fleet goalkeeper and Dartford were frustrated once more.
For all their lack of forward thrust, Fleet looked comfortable enough in defence during the first period, but that all changed after the break. Straight from the restart Dartford went on the offensive and Tom Bradbrook had time and space to a drive a shot that hit Tom Bonner and ballooned to safety.
Adams then got room from a free-kick to run at the defence and it was Clark’s turn to save the Fleet as he got in a vital tackle.
The visitors’ only chance of real note came on 55 minutes when Willmott’s free-kick was met with a powerful downward header by Clark that Ibrahim stopped on the goalline.
McMahon sought to change things and brought on Danny Haynes and Kissock. The former saw very little of the ball while Kissock, though lively and involved as ever, was unable to stem the Dartford tide. Danny Harris and Kaka Dembele entered the fray for the Darts and they gave the home side even more momentum as Fleet struggled to clear their lines and get any fluency going.
And with 10 minutes left, the visitors made even harder work of it for themselves. Rance, who felt aggrieved about an earlier yellow card, raced into a challenge for a 50/50 ball with Noble. Both players collided with a sickening crunch and Elliott Bradbrook reacted so furiously to the challenge that it was little surprise that the referee issued Rance a second yellow.
All credit to the Fleet that they didn’t crumble and continued to withstand a further quarter of an hour of pressure. Clark and Bonner continued to break up attacks with strength and purpose and for all their possession, the white shirts could find no way through.
Adam Cunnington saw some late action and he almost sprung the Dartford back line as he outpaced McNaughton but the home side cleared.
It was the last action of what certainly wasn’t a spectacle for the purists but Bonner and Clark especially showed their delight at the final whistle in a derby match that may have lacked quality but made up for it in passion and grit.
EUFC: Hall, Fish, Howe, S Lewis, Clark, Bonner, Rance, Parkes, Kedwell (Cunnington 84), Godden (Kissock 66), Willmott (Haynes 56). Subs not used: Miles, Acheampong
DFC: Ibrahim, Burns, Onyemah, McNaughton, Noble, Hayes (Harris 59), E Bradbrook, T Bradbrook, Adams (Sykes 84), Simmons (Dembele 70). Subs not used: Vint, Turner.