Dartford 1-1 St Albans (St Albans won 4-2 on penalties)

IF this had been a boxing bout, the referee would have stopped it to prevent St Albans from suffering too much punishment.

Played out against an ice cold winter’s evening, this was as absorbing a contest as you would wish to see in a life-time.

It was whole-hearted stuff, uncluttered by prima donna shenanigans and it restored communal faith in the Darts.

Darts were unchanged on field and bench and defended the Car Park End at the kick-off.

The early skirmishes didn’t prepare the meagre attendance for what was to be revealed during this encounter which, undeservedly, went to the visitors.

For 35 minutes the game was a replica of the previous Saturday’s but, this time, provided goals, a thrilling all-action fightback and, sadly, the heartbreak of the penalty shootout (made into a film by Wim Wenders!).

With 0-0 appearing on the half-time horizon, St Albans’ Hunt provided a cross which was clipped home at the far post.

After bedding in early in the second half, Darts attacked St Albans relentlessly with fast, flowing football which the fickle fates of sports treated with disdain.

The bar twice, the goal-line, the insides of the posts and a sprightly visiting goalkeeper kept Darts out. The introduction of Ryan Hayes for James White, as usual, caused the visitors problems with which they ere unfamiliar and, in the end, remorselessness paid off when Rob Haworth bravely headed home a Hayes cross to take the game into extra-time.

Cody McDonald had the ball in the net before 100 minutes were up, but Paul Bostock made enough of a meal of the collision between them to have the effort disallowed.

The introduction of Eferakorho for Flanners gave us a good look of the young defender’s skills and the evening ended with St Albans booking a visit to Stevenage. As they won 4-2 on penalties.

There were a thousand plusses in the tie and, once the disappointment is tempered, Darts will have emerged all the better for it. The exhalation “Believe” springs to mind.

Dartford: Young, Osborne, Gross, Flanagan (Eferakorho 100), Coyle, Dafter, White (Hayes 55), Day, Haworth (Butterworth 112), McDonald, Noble. Subs not used: Cass, Ibrahim. Att: 542.