Published: 17:00, 18 April 2014 |
Updated: 19:52, 18 April 2014
Dartford slipped closer to relegation when they lost at promotion-chasing Braintree on Good Friday.
Kenny Davis scored the only goal of the game at the Amlin Stadium and Darts goalkeeper Alan Julian kept the score down with a couple of brilliant saves.
Tony Burman's side lacked the creatvity to get back in the game and they must now wait for other results across the Easter weekend to find out exactly how perilous their plight now is going into the final week of the Skrill Premier season.
Braintree welcomed back key players Davis, Nick Hamann and Sean Marks after suspension, although a wrist injury meant leading scorer Dan Holman was only on the bench.
For the visitors, Nathan Collier was preferred to Ben Swallow on the right wing and there was to a return to the squad for Elliot Bradbrook - although the skipper, having missed two games with a thigh injury, wasn't fit enough to start.
With so much riding on the game for both sides, the opening exchanges were understandably scrappy.
Braintree were enjoying the lion's share of possession and they swung over some dangerous crosses, without really putting the Darts defence under pressure.
And the home side gave Dartford a chance out of nowhere when Ryan Peters was caght dawdling in the right-back position. Lee Noble picked his pocket and strode towards goal, but with keeper Hamann scrambling back, Noble scuffed his shot wastefully wide of the far post.
It was the sort of game which needed either a mistake or a moment of magic to bring it to life.
And the latter arrived on 24 minutes. The ball dropped invitingly to Davis on the edge of the Dartford box and the Iron captain set himself before swerving a terrific shot inside the far post. Julian dived to his right but got nowhere near the ball.
It should have been 2-0, moments later, when a left-wing corner dropped to Marks in the six-yard box. He pulled the trigger but this time Julian came to Dartford's rescue with a crucial save.
The travelling fans were yelling for a penalty when Danny Harris was pulled down in the box, but referee Declan Ford said no.
Dartford's tactic of going direct to Mikel Suarez and feeding off the scraps lacked any subtlety and Braintree's experienced central defenders, Alan Massey and Dean Wells, coped easily with the aerial bombardment through to half-time.
And the hosts could have doubled their lead straight after the restart. Dan Sparkes played a neat ball into Marks' feet and only a brilliant saving tackle by Rory McAuley stopped him finding the bottom corner.
Wells was perhaps lucky to escape with only a caution when his handball stopped a Dartford attack. Noble whipped in a dangerous delivery from the resulting free-kick and Suarez's glancing header flashed just wide.
That was to be Noble's last contribution, with Burman bringing on Bradbrook in his place. It was a gamble, given that Bradbrook had been an injury doubt before the game.
But his introduction seemed to lift the Darts. Suarez and Harris linked up on the edge of the box and Bradbrook's low shot from 25 yards forced a smart save from Hamann.
However, when Max Cornhill went down injured in midfield, Braintree broke and almost doubled their lead. James Mulley burst into the box and laid the ball across for substitute Jordan Cox, whose low effort was held by Julian.
Swallow came on for Collier and the men in white shirts poured forward. But their attacks meant gaps appeared at the other and the game became increasingly stretched as time ticked away.
Cox thought he'd scored when his bullet header from a corner looked destined for the back of the net. But a brilliant reflex save by Julian kept the ball out and Marks nodded the rebound over.
Set-pieces again looked like Dartford's best route to goal and a left-wing Swallow corner dropped on the head of McAuley, but the Cambridge loanee failed to hit the target.
Swallow's next delivery, a free-kick from near the same corner, was glanced wide by Harris as Dartford packed the box with white shirts.
The visitors were giving it everything but they lacked an end product. And a free-kick from Braintree substitute Luke Daley almost caught Julian out, swirling just beyond the angle. Davis went equally close with another free-kick soon after.
Bradbrook had a shot saved from point-blank range in the fifth minute of stoppage-time and Braintree somehow cleared their lines in the mad scramble which followed. Jim Stevenson had two chances to force the ball over the line but it wouldn't go in.
Dartford are at home to relegated Tamworth on Easter Monday.
Braintree: Hamann, Peters, Massey, Wells, Habergham, Mulley, Isaac (Daley 75mins), Paine, Davis, Sparkes (Cox 56mins), Marks. Subs not used: McDonald, Holman, Laurent.
Dartford: Julian, Burns, Mitchel-King, McAuley, Sterling, Collier (Swallow 66mins), Cornhill, Stevenson, Noble (Bradbrook 54mins), Harris, Suarez. Subs not used: Holloway, Woodyard, Clark.
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