TWO late Grimsby goals have put a major dent in Dartford’s hopes of reaching the FA Trophy final at Wembley.
The vital action in Saturday’s semi-final first leg came in the last few minutes of a contest which looked like ending with a narrow 1-0 win for the home side.
Grimsby had taken the lead in the 25th minute through Craig Disley, but Darts would have been reasonably satisfied until the 85th minute when Disley struck again before Andy Cook added what could well prove to be a decisive third two minutes later ahead of this weekend’s second leg at Princes Park.
Dartford’s miserable day was complete in stoppage time as Lee Noble was sent off for apparently stamping on England C international Aswad Tomas’ foot, although video evidence is being examined by Dartford officials to examine the possibility of an appeal.
Jacob Erskine failed a pre-match fitness test, but Lee Burns was able to start after missing the midweek 1-0 victory over Luton Town when he had sustained a cut leg in an accident at work.
In some ways, the tie was a replica of Dartford’s 2-0 league victory at Blundell earlier this season.
They started promisingly enough, with Danny Harris getting through the home defence up the left and the first of his many crosses was almost hit home by the returning Harry Crawford, who is back on loan at the club from League Two Barnet.
Grimsby showed some excellent running on both wings and pinned Darts back.
But it was not until almost the 25th minute they took the lead when Disley latched on to a weak defensive clearance to beat Marcus Bettinelli with s fierce drive from the edge of the box.
The second half saw Darts continuing to contain Grimsby and they ensured the pace of the game diminished.
With 20 minutes left, Dartford substitute James Rogers fired in a powerful shot which brought an outstanding save from home custodian James McKeown.
Just as it seemed that Darts would take a narrow deficit back to Princes Park came those awful five minutes.
Disley hit a shot at goal, which Betttinelli failed to hold and the ball squirmed over the line despite the keeper’s despairing efforts to claw it back.
Cook then added insult to injury by hitting a shot on the turn from six yards, which slid just inside the post when, on another day, it would have gone wide.
There was still time for Noble to see red, with Dartford now facing a real battle to overturn the three-goal deficit in the second leg at Princes Park on Saturday.
As Scarlet O’Hara said in ‘Gone with the Wind’: “Tomorrow is another day.”
Follow us on Twitter @NewsShopperSprt
Dartford: Bettinelli, Burns (Green 57), Arber, Bonner, Rose, Hayes (Robers 62), Champion, Bradbrook, Harris (Collier 78), Noble, Crawford. Subs not used: Wells, Wallis. Att: 3,573 (242 from Dartford).