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Dartford 2 Welling United 2: Welling let two-goal lead slip against National League South leaders

Steve Lovell’s first game in charge of Welling ended in a draw as they held National League South leaders Dartford at Princes Park.

But it was a case of what might have been for both managers after Welling led 2-0 early in the second half while Dartford’s Elliott Romain somehow headed wide from close range once his team had restored parity.

Dartford's Connor Essam - fortunate not to see red in the first half against Welling. Picture: Keith Gillard
Dartford's Connor Essam - fortunate not to see red in the first half against Welling. Picture: Keith Gillard

Former Gillingham boss Lovell had to wait 23 days for his first Welling game due to Covid and a two-week mid-season suspension.

But he has quickly put his stamp on the Wings who had taken just eight points from 11 games under former manager Bradley Quinton.

Welling lined up with Lovell’s favoured 4-4-2 diamond formation and Anthony Cook marked his return by taking the captain’s armband and playing in an unfamiliar central striker role.

Dartford fielded seven former Wings in their line-up with a further three on the bench and both sides traded early long-range shots, Darts’ Nassim L’Ghoul and Welling’s Lyle Della-Verde – also up against his former club – both warming the hands of the respective keepers.

Welling took the lead on 18 minutes when the excellent Darren Oldaker won the ball off Jack Jebb in the middle of the park and the direct Cook led the counter attack, feeding Della-Verde who squeezed the ball past keeper Dan Wilks at his near post.

Dartford should have levelled the scores within two minutes but Charlie Sheringham beat the offside trap, only to be denied by the legs of Welling keeper Reice Charles-Cook.

Darts centre-back Connor Essam was booked for a foul on Cook just past the half-hour, as he halted another quick Welling break. It was Essam’s next big challenge that was to provide the main talking point of the first half.

Moments after referee Oliver Mackey let Craig Braham-Barrett off without a caution for a late foul on Cook, Essam took the Wings skipper out on the edge of the box. It seemed certain the official would reach for a second yellow card but amazingly Essam escaped with a lengthy lecture and was not surprisingly replaced by boss Steve King at the break.

His replacement, Josh Hill, was caught cold just 30 seconds after the restart. He fluffed his header back to the keeper and then fouled Cook in the penalty area.

Striker Dipo Akinyemi sent Wilks the wrong way from the penalty spot to double Welling’s lead.

It was a lively start to the second half for Cook, who having won the spot-kick was quickly booked for an altercation with Braham-Barrett and then missed a glorious chance to wrap the game up.

A lovely ball over the top sent Cook clear on 51 minutes but his lob lacked enough height and Wilks was able to gather.

Cook gave away another foul so it was no surprise that with referee Mackey unpredictable at best, Lovell took him off before the hour mark.

Dartford were back in the game by then, however, as Luke Allen drilled home after L’Ghoul’s shot was cleared off the line.

Allen went close again before Darts scored their second goal in five minutes to level the scores. Romain met L’Ghoul’s left-wing cross and the ball finally fell perfectly for substitute Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong to convert.

Dartford should have gone ahead on 72 minutes when Berkeley-Agyepong crossed from the left but Romain somehow headed wide when it seemed easier to score at the far post.

Welling nearly made them pay within a minute when substitute Rhys Murrell-Williamson cut in from the right wing and his low shot was turned behind by Wilks.

Della-Verde sent a free-kick over as Welling continued to pose a threat but Dartford also had late chances, Femi Akinwande’s shot was beaten away before Romain headed wide again in stoppage time.

Dartford: Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Braham-Barrett, Ijaha, Essam (Hill 46mins), Bonner, Jebb (Berkeley-Agyepong 55mins), Allen, Sheringham (Akinwande 59mins), L’Ghoul, Romain. Subs not used: Marsh-Brown, Barham.

Welling: Charles-Cook, Johnson, Hobbs, Strachan, Campbell, Shukumbi, Oldaker, Della-Verde, Durojaiye (Ainsworth 70mins), Cook (Murrell-Williamson 59mins), Akinyemi (Vose 77mins). Subs not used: Doe, Hughes.

Referee: Oliver Mackey.

Read more: All the latest sports news in Kent

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