National League South Play-off Semi-Final 2nd leg DARTFORD 1 CHELMSFORD CITY 2 (Chelmsford win 2-1 on aggregate)


Phoenix FM’s JOHN CHUBB reporting from Princes Park

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Chelmsford City are now potentially only 90 minutes away from a long coveted place in the National League as they saw off their old rivals Dartford, the first leg of the semi-final at Melbourne Stadium last Wednesday having been a 0-0 draw.

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Clarets manager Rod Stringer had to go into this leg without the services of his captain Anthony Church, who was suffering from an ankle injury. Shaun Jeffers took his place in the starting line up. Darts boss Tony Burman made two changes to his starting eleven from Wednesday’s goalless first leg at Melbourne Stadium, striker Andy Pugh replacing Lee Noble and Danny Harris coming in at right back for Keaton Wood.

The home side were the ones creating the first couple of chances in the opening minutes of the match, which was played in a tremendous atmosphere as both sets of supporters in a packed Princes Park got behind their teams. Then with 14 minutes on the clock, Dartford were awarded a free kick after Luke Daley was adjudged to have fouled Ryan Hayes by referee Gary Parsons, but Hayes’ effort went wide of the post. Chelmsford strikers Chris Dickson and Louie Theophanous both had chances as City attempted to get the ball forward, and in the 25th minute some promising work from the visitors ended with a shot from Robbie Willmott, but it was well over the bar.

The Darts came very close to breaking the deadlock after 34 minutes, when another Hayes free kick hit the post before Harris headed the rebound, but again the ball smacked against the post before being scrambled away. The Clarets then won a free kick with 7 minutes of the first half left. Willmott hit a superb goal bound strike which was only just palmed away by the alert Darts keeper Deren Ibrahim. Theophanous fired an effort only just over the crossbar, as the game drifted towards half time with both sides having shown far more in terms of goalscoring opportunities than in the entire 90 minutes of the first leg.

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For the second half, City boss Stringer decided on a more attacking formation as he replaced left back Daley with attacking midfielder Bagasan Graham, who returned after 6 weeks’ absence. The Clarets immediately began to apply pressure and with 53 minutes gone, Chris Bush had a great chance with a low shot which smacked the post, then Bush turned provider as his long throw found Dickson, whose header touched the bar before going over. Dartford responded with an effort from Pugh going just wide of the post, then with two subsequent efforts from skipper Elliot Bradbrook but still neither team had broken the deadlock.

That all changed as the game moved into the 70th minute and it was Chelmsford who grabbed the lead. Dickson’s perfectly placed cross found Theophanous who drove the ball past Ibrahim and into the back of the net, sparking jubilant celebrations from the sizeable contingent of City fans who had made the short journey across the water from Essex. Then with 6 minutes remaining, they had even more reason to celebrate as Dickson broke down the left flank, running unchallenged all the way from the halfway line before smashing a superb left footed strike past Ibrahim to make it 2-0 to the Clarets.

Referee Parsons added four minutes of injury time, and just as it looked as though the Darts could not find a way back striker Duane Ofori-Acheampong popped up with a goal for them almost at the death. But it was too little, too late for the home team as Chelmsford held on to claim their place in Saturday’s final when they will face a trip to Ebbsfleet United, who were 4-2 aggregate winners over Hampton & Richmond in the other semi-final.

Dartford: Ibrahim, Harris, Wynter, Bonner, Vint, Brown (Noble 55), Hayes, Bradbrook, Ofori-Acheampong, Pugh (Pavey 75), Wanadio (Murphy 75).

Chelmsford: Fitzsimons, Hill, Daley (Graham 45), Porter, Bush, Haines, Willmott, Rees, Theophanous (Haysman 85), Dickson, Jeffers

Attendance: 2622

After the final whistle Chelmsford manager Rod Stringer said: I’m delighted…..it was a tough game….the first half was pretty even Stevens but in the second half, we hit them (Dartford) on the counter with a couple of great finishes. Dicko’s (Chris Dickson) first one that he assisted was quality at the highest level, and then he’s gone through and finished the game off. We needed that second (goal), I’m disappointed to have conceded a goal, I thought we got sloppy…. but if that’s all I’m moaning about here today that tells you what type of performance we’ve had.”

“Ebbsfleet are a top side but we don’t fear them, they don’t fear us….we’ve already been to Kent and got a result and on Saturday we’ll try and do it all over again.”

Stringer also paid tribute to the City supporters, saying “This club has been suffering for a long time….these people are there week in week out….as a manager I’m only as good as my football club and these people are making it what it is”.

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