By Steve Tervet at Blundell Park
Dartford will need a miracle to reach the FA Trophy final following a calamitous climax to the first leg of their semi-final against Grimsby on Saturday.
The visitors trailed to Craig Disley’s first-half volley but they looked to have to kept the tie alive thanks to a solid performance in the second period.
However, goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli inexplicably dropped another Disley shot over the line with five minutes remaining and Andy Cook then drilled in a third goal two minutes later.
Lee Noble (pictured) was shown a straight red card in stoppage time to complete a miserable afternoon for Tony Burman’s side. They must now score at least three goals in the second leg at Princes Park on Saturday to have any chance of getting to Wembley.
Striker Harry Crawford went straight into the Dartford starting line-up, having re-signed for the club on loan from Barnet 24 hours earlier.
The Darts started brightly. Crawford sent one shot wide before almost conjuring a majestic opener when he looped the ball over a defender’s head and volleyed straight at Town goalkeeper James McKeown.
However, Grimsby started to assert themselves as the half wore on, with on-loan Bury winger Marcus Marshall causing Dartford big problems down the left flank.
Town broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion on 25 minutes. A corner from the right was only cleared as far as Disley, who sent a sweet volley flashing past Bettinelli from 25 yards.
The goal left Dartford reeling and Grimsby surged forward in search of a second. Derek Niven rolled a shot just past the base of the post and Bettinelli then had to palm an Andy Cook effort behind as the home fans cranked up the volume.
Marshall continued to maraud down the left wing and his enticing cross was somehow headed wide by Joe Colbeck when it looked easier to score.
The pace of the game dropped after half-time. Goalmouth action was at a premium, with Dartford regaining a foothold in the tie and enjoying much more possession.
They went agonisingly close to scoring through substitute James Rogers, whose left-footed volley drew a save of real class from Town stopper James McKeown. The Mariners fans rose to salute their goalkeeper’s reflexes.
Noble then floated over an inviting free-kick which Darts skipper Elliot Bradbrook headed over from close-range. With five minutes left, both sides looked to have settled for a 1-0 result ahead of the return leg at Princes Park.
However, Bettinelli’s howler gifted Disley his second goal and Cook’s strike – following some hesitant Dartford defending – put Grimsby in complete control before Noble saw red for tangling with Aswad Thomas on the touchline.
Dartford: Bettinelli, Burns (Green 56mins), Bonner, Arber, Rose, Hayes (Rogers 60mins), Champion, Bradbrook, Harris (Collier 77mins), Noble, Crawford. Subs not used: Wells, Wallis. Attendance: 3,573.