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Dartford manager Steve King on their 2-1 win over Havant & Waterlooville in the National League South play-off semi-final

Dartford manager Steve King saluted the team ethic that has got his men to within touching distance of promotion.

It’s a situation that certainly wasn’t on the agenda this season when King took charge back in October, taking on a team that were only just above the drop-zone.

Dartford manager Steve King is one win away from promotion Picture: Chris Davey
Dartford manager Steve King is one win away from promotion Picture: Chris Davey

King has transformed Dartford's fortunes and a 2-1 semi-final win at Havant & Waterlooville on Saturday sets up a game at Weymouth next weekend where the teams meet for a place in the National League.

“It’s a brilliant feeling and it’s quite emotional,” said the former Welling boss, following their weekend win.

“The group have done ever so well. They have been magnificent ever since we came through the door to have done what they have as a group.

“We have had to change sides and I changed it at half-time (on Saturday). The boys who came off were disappointed but they offered their support and they were shouting and hugging at the end and it has been a real team effort, whether they have started or not started.

“I have tried to build that mentality. You can’t sulk, you need to get on with it, and it may have been your turn this week to be the hero but maybe someone else’s turn next week but as a group they have done unbelievable.”

Dartford produced another impressive second half display to win the game, just as they did when they defeated Slough Town in the eliminator match.

A dismissal for Havant’s Josh Taylor gave them a boost, the player ordered off after kicking out at striker Elliott Romain.

Darren McQueen scored the winning goals and had substitute Ky Marsh-Brown to thank, as he set up the equaliser and did all the work to win the decisive penalty. It was a game-changing performance.

“Brown was different class,” King said.

“Since he has come back from lockdown he has been one of our best players in training and we knew we had a plan for him. We knew we were going to get him on around 60.

“Our plan was to give him 30 minutes to really run at them and cause them problems and he has changed the game, he was outstanding. He needs to get more air in his lungs, he can only go for 60 minutes and we have had that conversation. He was knackered after 35-40 but he changed the game.

“He is a talent and he has a great chance if we can work on that fitness and stamina to get him to play 90 minutes.”

King admitted he had got his selection wrong for the match but the changes at the break made a difference. In the end 10-man Havant couldn’t keep up.

King said: “Their boy kicked out and got sent off and let his team down, simple as that.

“In my opinion we were poor first half. I got the shape wrong and I will hold my hands up to that. I played five across the back, three centre halves, because I wanted to deal with their aerial prowess.

“It wasn’t working and we didn’t do ourselves justice. We changed it and went back to 4-3-3, put Brown on who has legs and can run at people and I knew they would tire.

“They hadn’t played for four or five months, they were going up hill second half, the pitch was getting heavier and heavier and I knew bringing on fresh legs we could stretch the game.

“We looked better second half. Yes they had 10 men, which is going to make a difference, but we used the ball better until we got into the final third and we could have run out 3-1, 4-1 winners in the end, I think.”

King wasn’t entirely satisfied and knows there are things to improve.

He said: “They broke really well and we weren’t switched on in certain areas and I wasn’t happy with some of the stuff and I told them.

“Yes we were brilliant and amazing but it is for me to pick them up on where they have done wrong as well. We could have made the game easier for ourselves.”

King and his team now play their third and final game of the play-offs at Weymouth next weekend.

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