by Steve Tervet
Dartford reached the end of the road in the FA Trophy when Grimsby held them to a goalless draw to book their place at Wembley on Saturday.
Trailing 3-0 from the semi-final first leg at Blundell Park, the Darts needed an early goal to inject belief into their cause but Grimsby weathered an early storm and went on to control the game.
Already missing the suspended Lee Noble, Dartford manager Tony Burman had to do without experienced centre-back Mark Arber, who missed the game due to illness. Jon Wallis took his place and Tom Champion dropped back into defence, while Jacob Erskine returned from injury in attack. Adam Green was preferred to Richard Rose at left-back.
The home side did make a strong start, with Ryan Hayes (pictured) the fulcrum of their most dangerous moves.
Hayes had already seen one free-kick deflect behind when he crossed for skipper Elliot Bradbrook to head straight at Grimsby goalkeeper James McKeown from six yards.
Another wicked Hayes delivery fell at the feet of Harry Crawford. The Barnet loanee whipped the ball across goal and Bradbrook almost turned it home, only for a Grimsby foot to intervene.
The Mariners are targeting an historic league-and-cup double this season and they began to show the form which has carried them into the Blue Square Bet Premier title race. Lenell John-Lewis headed a cross wide of the far post as the visitors stifled Dartford’s exuberance.
After the break, Grimsby came out looking to kill the tie completely. Jamie Devitt’s low shot forced Marcus Bettinelli to push the ball round the post before the on-loan Fulham man denied John-Lewis from close range.
Dartford’s attacks were becoming more sporadic but they almost reduced Town’s aggregate lead midway through the second half. Crawford’s snap-shot was deflected behind and the subsequent Hayes corner caused mayhem in the six-yard box before the ball was eventually cleared.
But there was to be no dramatic fightback by the men in white shirts. Grimsby could even have won the game through John-Lewis or Richard Brodie, but their noisy travelling supporters celebrated a 3-0 aggregate win which sends them through to an FA Trophy Final with title rivals Wrexham on March 24.
Meanwhile, the Darts return to league action next weekend when they visit Southport.
Dartford: Bettinelli, Burns, Champion, Bonner, Green (Rogers 80mins), Hayes, Wallis (Evans 80mins), Bradbrook, Harris, Erskine (Collier 76mins), Crawford. Subs not used: Wells, Rose. Attendance: 2,153.
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