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Dartford manager reacts to FA Cup fourth qualifying round defeat at AFC Sudbury

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Dartford boss Steve King admitted the manner of their FA Cup defeat was hard to take.

The Darts looked on course to reach the first round for the first time since 2017 after Jack Jebb’s wondergoal on the stroke of half-time at AFC Sudbury on Saturday.

Jernade Meade is put under pressure during Dartford's FA Cup loss at AFC Sudbury. Picture: Mecha Morton
Jernade Meade is put under pressure during Dartford's FA Cup loss at AFC Sudbury. Picture: Mecha Morton

But decisions went against Dartford in the second half, most notably a red card for captain Tom Bonner, and they bowed out 3-1 after the Isthmian North hosts scored a third goal on the break in stoppage time.

King was not impressed that Reece Harris’ equalising free-kick was given by the assistant referee as the ball bounced down from the underside of the crossbar and back into play.

But he was quite rightly left even more baffled by referee Oliver Mackey’s decision to show Bonner a second yellow card for winning a perfectly good header just before the hour mark.

Reflecting on the second half, King said: “They won a free-kick which was a foul and then the controversy, if you like, started from there. The free-kick hit the bar, bounces down and comes out, and there's no way anyone in the ground can say that has crossed the line.

“We've seen the starting position of the linesman on the 18-yard box and he is still eight yards from the corner flag when he signals it has gone over the line. For him to give it, he must be guessing.

“We've looked back at the GoPro camera in the goal and can see all of the ball didn't cross the line so he was guessing. You can't think that the ball crossed the line - you have to be 100 per cent.

“The biggest decision of the game was Tom Bonner's sending off for winning a clean header. He wins headers like that every week so for the referee to give a foul and a second yellow card shocked the whole stadium, both benches, and it shocked Tom as well.

“It was a game-changing decision, a poor decision that made it 11v10 in their favour and gave them a big advantage.

“They then scored from the second phase of that free-kick but for the next 25 minutes we were camped in their half. We came across an inspired goalkeeping performance, he made some fantastic saves, the brilliant one with his foot from Noor Husin when it was 1-1, the header from Connor Essam which would have made it 2-2.

“The game was either going to go 3-1 or 2-2 as we threw bodies forward and the third goal they scored was irrelevant.”

Dartford clear their lines against AFC Sudbury on Saturday. Picture: Mecha Morton
Dartford clear their lines against AFC Sudbury on Saturday. Picture: Mecha Morton

King contacted the FA’s referees' department to give his feedback on the events of the second half at the King’s Marsh Stadium.

“That's why they say sometimes you need this or that to go your way, you need that bit of luck,” added King. “We got no luck and the decision made against Tom Bonner was horrendous.

“I can't say how bad it was - and that's been backed up by the head of the referees. As managers this season we need to mark the referees, and I take it seriously. I always do it honestly with video and photo evidence on any decision that I feel was a big one in the game.

“I provided that as soon as we could after the game and the head of the referees came back and said it was not a yellow card.”

King’s mood was probably not improved by the first round draw which saw AFC Sudbury handed a home tie with League 2 Colchester, a game that could be selected for live TV coverage.

But the Darts boss stressed it was nothing personal against the Suffolk club, his disappointment was purely with the officials.

“It's hit me really hard because circumstances out of our control have seen us lose a football match,” added King. “If we were poor and they were better than us then you can accept that. But the referee's decision has changed the game and that's really difficult.

“This has nothing to do with Sudbury. They are a good team and I was chatting to their management team for half an hour before the game. I wish them all the best in the next round.

“I'm glad we haven't got a game this weekend so I can clear my head.”

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