Fleet started the New Year with a bang and gained vengeance for Dartford’s Boxing Day victory as a Bradley Bubb strike four minutes before half-time was enough to separate the sides.
It was hardly a classic in very poor conditions but the Fleet contingent in the record Stonebridge Road crowd for a New Year’s Day fixture of 2,564 won’t mind that one bit as they reclaimed the local honours.
Daryl McMahon made four changes with Sean Shields, Mark Phillips, Bradley Bubb and Jack Powell replacing Jack Connors, Marvin McCoy, Darren McQueen and Stuart Lewis.
With a reaction demanded, Fleet almost got off to the worst possible start inside a minute when a crossfield pass found Dartford wide man Luke Wanadio in acres of space but Dave Winfield managed to get across him and do enough to force a scuffed shot that failed to trouble Nathan Ashmore.
Unlike the Boxing Day referee, Mr Dale set his stall out early on with a booking for Andy Drury with the first challenge of the afternoon. Dartford had the better of the early midfield exchanges but there was little to get excited about at either end as the wind and rain forced both sides into messy passes and hopeful balls forward or wide.
On 13 minutes, Lee Noble’s excellent low cross zipped along the Fleet six-yard box but with strikers and defenders too far forward of it, it fortunately skipped away untouched. Four minutes later, Fleet thought they’d edged in front; Powell’s quick, clever free-kick released Drury and he delivered into the six-yard box where Bubb was lurking. It seemed the striker must score but he failed to get a clean touch and somehow Deren Ibrahim was able to pounce on the ball.
That marked a better period for the home side and they forced a number of corners without reward. At the other end, Keaton Wood’s high effort almost caught out Ashmore as he back pedalled and he had to tip the ball over the bar to protect his goal. And on the half-hour, the goalkeeper again made a vital stop, getting down low to get a hand on Danny Harris’s precise delivery and Kenny Clark was able to mop up the rest. Clark saw yellow moments later, however, when Duane Ofori-Acheampong threatened to outpace him down the right and the big Darts man was hauled to the floor.
Shields and Danny Kedwell combined well on 37 minutes to fashion a chance for Anthony Cook but his swing at the ball saw it skew off into the ranks of drenched Dartford fans behind their goalkeeper. But four minutes later, Fleet created the chance that won them the match. Kedwell found Powell to the left of the box and the Fleet midfielder bided his time before planting the perfect short pass into Bubb’s path, the Fleet No.10 finishing well to steer the ball beyond Ibrahim.
Dartford almost fashioned an immediate replay when Harris sprung Fleet’s offside trap to put himself in the clear but he delayed his shot and that gave Ashmore time to steady himself and block the eventual strike.
In any other match, the second half would probably be labelled “nondescript” but in the North Kent derby that word doesn’t quite fit. It was a hard-fought 45 minutes in freezing wind and rain and Dartford tried to break down the Fleet defence but the red wall stood firm. Kedwell had a good chance early on when a Powell corner landed at his feet but a combination of a teammate and a defender put him off and he skied the shot over the bar.
A lull spurred Tony Burman into introducing two attacking players on the hour mark, with Andy Pugh and Tom Murphy brought on while full back Tom Gardiner departed and the visitors went three at the back. McMahon countered that with McCoy replacing Shields with 20 minutes left which seemed to keep the lively Murphy in check and McCoy managed to get forward on a number of occasions as well.
Cook almost troubled the Darts back line on 65 minutes with a chipped cross that landed by the far post but Ibrahim was first to that. Bubb had a run on goal blocked and Phillips bent a header just over the bar with 12 minutes remaining as Fleet managed to maintain their lead without too much Dartford pressure brought to bear.
With the minutes ticking away, the visitors did manage a couple of corners and crosses that could have created some anxiety had the Fleet defenders’ concentration levels dipped but, in the end, the Darts ran out of options and it was the home supporters who went home much the happier of the two sets of fans as 2017 was welcomed in by the red half of north Kent.
EUFC: Ashmore, Cook, Shields (McCoy 69), Phillips, Winfield, Clark, Rance, Drury, Kedwell, Bubb (McQueen 76), Powell. Subs not used: Miles, Lewis, Deering
DFC: Ibrahim, Gardiner (Pugh 63), Wood, Bonner, Vint, A Brown (Hayes 79), Noble, Bradbrook, Ofori-Acheampong, Harris, Wanadio (Murphy 63). Subs not used: Dembele, Coxall