Published: 06:00, 01 October 2020
Dartford boss Steve King has admitted he’s still hurting over their play-off agony.
The Darts fell at the final hurdle last month when they lost the National League South play-off final to Weymouth on penalties.
It was the second successive season that King’s team had been beaten in the final, having been in charge of Welling for their loss to Woking the previous campaign.
“It still hurts, you know what I mean,” said King. “It’s the fourth time it has happened to me now.
“I know that it was a free hit because of how we got there. We were two points off relegation when I took charge of Dartford so I knew it was a bonus.
“But after all the graft to get there - we beat Slough 3-0 away, no-one had done that to them on their pitch for 10 years, and then we went to Havant who were the favourites and won on their own doorstep.
“I felt that it was going to be our time. We didn’t play great in the final but I felt we were better than Weymouth.
“We had the better chances and I still feel disappointed that we never went to extra-time because five of the six managers all wanted that.
“It wasn’t a cup final, it was to move up a league and for something of that importance I felt we should have played extra-time in the final.
“But it is what it is now - and we probably took the three worst penalties you’ll ever see!”
So having come so close last season to promotion, does that mean that King wants to bypass the play-offs this time around and go straight up as champions?
“I’ll never say that,” he stated. “You’ll never hear me say that I’m going to win the league, I didn’t say that when I won it with Lewes.
“I’ll always say the priority is play-offs and anything more than that is a bonus.
“It’s very hard to win the league - there are 20 other teams who want to do it as well. All sorts of things come into play, injuries, form, luck.”
King appears to have strengthened his Dartford squad, giving it greater depth with nine new signings.
There’s two new keepers - Craig King (Oxford City) and on-loan Chelsea youngster Ethan Wady - while Connor Essam (Hemel Hempstead) and Jazzi Barnum-Bobb (Wrexham) increase defensive competition.
Darts fans will be delighted with the permanent acquisition of the gifted midfielder Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong, who impressed so much on loan last season, while up front striker Jack Barham replaces Dagenham-bound Darren McQueen in the ranks.
“I’m delighted with what we’ve done,” said King. “We’ve gelled really well which is good to see.
“We’ve pitted our wits against virtually every team at the level above in pre-season. I thought that was more suited for where we are as a team.
“I wanted to go into games that asked different questions of us - mentally, physically and tactically.”
Dartford start their season in the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round at home to Slough this Saturday - “it’s one of the toughest draws in this round” - before they host Chelmsford at Princes Park in the league on Tuesday night.
Fans can’t watch either game as the season starts behind closed doors, even though Dartford successfully held a pilot match with fans back in the ground for the friendly against Dover this month.
“The sooner we can have fans back the better,” said King.
“Football clubs can’t survive without their fans.
“You notice it 100 per cent in matches, too. Even when we had the pilot game and there were 600 fans in the ground it was so good for the players.”