Billericay Town host Dartford FC this Saturday at the AGP Arena. Despite the recent upheaval at the club, and confirmation this week of the departure of manager Harry Wheeler and his management team, the Blues remain handily placed at second in the League. A much needed away win at Hemel Hempstead last week-end leaves Billericay only three points behind early pace-setters, Woking.
Photo: Nicky Hayes
After a strong start to the season, beginning with two consecutive wins and a draw, the Darts are in a poor run of form. Having won only once in six games – a home victory by 2-0 versus struggling East Thurrock – Dartford find themselves a lowly 16th in the National South table. Hopes had been high after a late goal secured all the points on opening day at Bath City, Chelmsford were beaten at home, and, after missing a penalty, having the better of a goalless draw with Hemel at Princes Park.
That was as good as it got for the Darts with a poor performance at home seeing the team convincingly beaten by Wealdstone. Away losses at Concord Rangers, Hungerford Town, and St. Albans without registering a single goal have seen the Darts drop steadily down the table. Last Saturday, there were signs of improvement against high-flying visitors Eastbourne Borough. Dartford battled hard and showed character to score late in added time to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw.
Dartford finished the 2017-18 season as runners-up in the National South last season, being narrowly edged out on goal difference. Starting the day on level points with eventual champions, Havant & Waterlooville, an 87th minute winner for the Hampshire side at Concord Rangers would cruelly deprive the Darts of automatic promotion. Consigned to the play-off’s, Dartford’s season ended with a 1-0 semi-final defeat as sixth placed side, Braintree Town, upset the form book.
Missing out on promotion back to the Conference Premier – after relegation in 2014-15 – manager Tony Burman and his coaching team took the decision to step down in May 2018. In charge for 14 years, Burman was the key driver behind Dartford’s rise within non-League football. In a 5 year spell, beginning in 2007, the Darts secured three promotions to rise from the Isthmian Division One (North), arriving at the top tier of Non-League football for the 2012-13 season. After a 3 year stay, the Darts were relegated back to the National South, but regularly featured in the play-off places.
A co-management team of Adam Flanagan and Jamie Coyle were rapidly appointed at the end of the season to replace the outgoing Burman. Both were available having recently departed from management roles at National South sides, Concord Rangers and Welling United. As former Dartford players, having appeared 135 and 140 times respectively for the side during the successful 2007-10 period, the joint managers have a close connection to the club’s recent history. Taking over from an established manager in situ for a long period of time at any club is not an easy task. With the side’s current League placing suggesting a slow start, Dartford have the look of a team “in transition”.
Dartford’s playing squad has seen a fair amount of turnover as one might expect with a new management team. On average, Darts sides fielded this season have featured at least five players that were not at the club during the previous campaign. In terms of departures, notable changes include the loss of leading scorer, and player of the year, Alfie Pavey. The ex-Millwall man, who scored 22 League goals last season, left to join Havant & Waterlooville in the National League.
Photo: Nicky Hayes
Another departure was right-winger, Ryan Hayes, who provided a steady stream of assists during his 13 years at the club. Still an attacking threat, he heads to Concord Rangers. Striker, Danny Mills who impressed on loan has returned to parent club, Ebbsfleet, and is now at Welling United. Also among those released were long serving utility man, Danny Harris, central midfielder, Alex Brown. Ex- Hampton & Richmond defender, Nathan Collier, re-joined his old boss Alan Dowson at Woking.
Pre-the two goals scored at Eastbourne, early form shows a miserly return of five goals – of which only one from open play – in the first eight matches, Dartford’s issues are clearly in the striking department. With a traditionally mean back-line, and highly competitive midfield, the Darts look defensively sound with a reasonable 11 goals conceded in 9 matches. To be fair to the club, attacking plans were rocked by the double leg fracture to striker Andy Pugh suffered in pre-season. With 13 goals in the League last season, he had been expected to prosper up front alongside reinforcements recruited in the off-season. He is expected to be out at least until Christmas.
New attacking signings include Delano Sam-Yorke formerly at Maidstone United, Jamie Philpot from Millwall, and ex- Chelmsford City player, Kudus Oyenuga. All can play the role of the bustling, physical striker, and in Oyenuga have a genuine pace option. However, as yet, none look as effective as Alex Wall has been for Concord Rangers or suggested that they can fully cover the void left by Pavey. As background, Wall spent several weeks with the Darts in pre-season but was not offered a contract. With 7 goals in 9 matches, Wall has scored as many goals in the League as Dartford.
Noting the lack of effectiveness up front, Dartford moved this month to secure more goal power by recruiting striker, Charlie Sheringham, 30, from Hemel Hempstead and Amadou Ba, 20, from Southend United. A second yellow card, and subsequent dismissal, versus Eastbourne Borough means Sheringham won’t feature against Billericay. Ba should, however, play and, in my view, represents a significant threat. A very quick player, with exceptional movement, the desire to chase a lost cause, and an eye for goal, Ba could be deadly at National South level and should deliver goals.
Signings worthy of note in other areas include young defender, Billy Roast, 23, who appears to me to be a real prospect. Playing regularly last year in the centre of defence for Concord Rangers, Roast is sufficiently versatile to be able to play in midfield and has featured in both positions for Dartford. Also, attacking midfielder, Ben Greenhalgh, 26, another formerly at Concord re-joins his ex-boss at the Beachboys, Flanagan. He is a threat from midfield, offers excellent set-piece delivery, and has been one of the best performers in the team in what has overall been a disappointing period.
Notwithstanding departures, the retained list makes impressive reading with combative central midfielder, Lee Noble, heading into his 11th year at the club. His presence in the side makes a huge difference to Dartford’s performance levels. Centre-back’s Ronnie Vint and new captain, Tom Bonner, also take their places at the heart of the Dartford rear-guard. Mark Onyemah, a speedy left-back, continues in the back-line. Back-up goal-keeper, Deren Ibrahim, gets his chance with the first choice stopper, Berti Schotteri, moving on to Woking. Ibrahim is a Gibraltan international.
Alongside Noble, the other mainstay of the side, is midfielder Elliott Bradbrook, 33, who has made over 400 appearances for the club. Having taken the decision to cease playing for Dartford after the Braintree defeat, the former skipper has since reversed his decision. His presence in the team comes as an unexpected but very welcome bonus. To date, he has been vital for the Darts starting the season in good form with two goals in nine games, including the late equalise versus Eastbourne.
We expect Glenn Tamplin to be in the Blues dug-out as manager for the game as he was against Hemel. Bearing in mind the successful switch to three at the back after half-time at Vauxhall Road, it is probable the Blues employ this system from the start. If so, we expect the three central defenders to be Inman, Doe, and Hayles flanked by wing-backs Kizzi right side and Kennedy left side.
Within central midfield, we think Danny Waldren is a certain starter, accompanied possibly by O’Hara. Sam Deering should also feature a little further forward. Cunnington may have earned the right to start with impressive appearances off the bench, including the vital break-through goal last time out. He should partner our 10 goal top scorer, Jake Robinson. Options from the bench look attractive with Connor Hunte showing immense promise in a brief appearance at Hemel. Moses Emmanuel, unlucky not to get starts, provides speed and an eye for goal against tiring defences.
Whatever the news-flow from Billericay Town this week, it does look better than before the Hemel game. With the owner now indicating that he plans to stay – unless another investor offering the same level of financial commitment can be found – near term financial concerns have abated. The question of the long-term manager still remains and with Harry Wheeler now unveiled at National League side, Maidstone United, we get a reminder of the quality of talent that we have lost. For now, stability is the key although this is sometimes hard to find. We can only hope that a solution to the management situation is found quickly and that we can all focus on matters on the pitch.
Enjoy the game!
Form Last Six Matches
Billericay Town: W, L, W, L, W, W
Leading Scorer: Jake Robinson, 10 goals.
Dartford FC: D, L, W, L, L, L.
Leading Scorer: Elliott Bradbrook, 2 goals.
Billericay Town ( Away Win 0-2 v Hemel Hempstead).
1. Alan Julian ; 2. Joseph Kizzi ; 3. Callum Kennedy ; 4. Scott Doe ; 5. Rickie Hayles ; 6. Sam Deering (14. Adam Cunnington, ’46) ; 7. Alfie Potter ; 8. Danny Waldren ; 9. Jake Robinson (17. Connor Hunte, ’58) ; 10. Adam Coombes (15. Moses Emmanuel, ’58); 11. Jake Howells
Subs Not Used: 12. Dean Inman ; 16. Jamie O’Hara.
Dartford FC (Home Draw 2-2 v Eastbourne Borough)
1. Deren Ibrahim ; 3. Mark Onyemah ; 4. Billy Roast (14. Delano Sam-Yorke, ’87) ; 6. Tom Bonner ; 7. Ben Greenhalgh ; 8. Lee Noble ; 10. Amadou Ba ; 15. Chez Isaac 19. Tom Knowles (17. Emmanuel Ighorae, ’77) ; 20. Charlie Sheringham
Subs Not Used: 5. Ronnie Vint; 9. Kudud Oyenuga ; 18. Simon Mensah