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Tom Bonner reacts to Dartford's penalty shootout defeat to Weymouth in the National League South promotion final

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Dartford captain Tom Bonner is proud of the team’s achievements this season but admits Saturday’s play-off defeat was his worst experience in football.

The Darts missed out on a place in the National League after losing on penalties to Weymouth in the promotion final.

Dartford captain Tom Bonner was on the losing side in the National League South promotion final Picture: Keith Gillard
Dartford captain Tom Bonner was on the losing side in the National League South promotion final Picture: Keith Gillard

It was his fourth defeat in a play-off campaign, his second loss in a final, but this one really hurt.

“I thought we played really well and that probably makes it harder to take,” he said.

“I felt comfortable and we were really solid, there was no massive chances for either team but we looked sharper and we edged it and to go out like that makes it 10 times worse.

“It was the lowest I have ever felt in football.

"We went to Slough (in the play-off eliminator) and won 3-0 and then to Havant, the big spenders, went down to an early goal and won 2-1, then to Weymouth and I believed we were the better team.

“I felt sorry for the boys after an unbelievable play-off experience. There is always a winner and a loser but to have played those three away games, conceding just the one goal and playing well in all three games and to come away with nothing is gutting really.

“But when you look at the play-offs, we did ourselves proud, and there was nothing more we could have done. We went out to the lottery of penalties. If the penalties had of gone our way we would look back on it as an unbelievable achievement.

“We have lost but when you strip it back and see how we performed against those three clubs it should give us confidence for next year, knowing that we should be in with a big chance of challenging.

“If we can keep the majority of the boys together, we have a hell of a chance next year. I am still gutted about Saturday, I felt it was Dartford’s time, but we just have to build on the positives now.”

The Darts were never expected to get near the play-offs when manager Steve King took over in October. The team went from close to the relegation places to being the form team in the league, finishing sixth when the season was abruptly halted because of Covid-19.

Bonner admitted he didn’t think the play-offs were going to take place as so much time passed before they finally got the green-light to play.

The play-off final came almost exactly a year after the season had begun.

He said: “Until the league officially gets cancelled you have to keep yourself fit. We felt as National League boys we were kept in the dark. We saw all the bits from the Premier League and the EFL but the National League took a back seat.

“I fully thought the play-offs wouldn’t go ahead because it had taken so long. We got to the point where they couldn’t ask the players to go back after not kicking a ball in three or four months. When we got the call to say it was on I couldn’t believe it but luckily I had kept myself fit.

“Match fitness is completely different. The toughest thing was having to go straight into a play-off eliminator. Normally you would have pre-season games, we had 45 minutes against Boreham Wood, it was tough going but the boys were in excellent shape.

“I felt like we had three good games but it was all for nothing, ultimately.”

Dartford’s season ultimately came down to three kicks from 12 yards, all of which went wide of the mark. Bonner was down as the fourth man to take a penalty, keen to put right the pain of the 2016 shoot-out defeat when he was playing for Ebbsfleet United against Maidstone United.

His kick was saved that day.

“It is heartbreaking if you are one of the guys who misses,” he said.

“It’s disappointing to miss the three but I have been in the situation before myself. It is devastating for them, they feel terrible, but there isn’t much you can do.

“Fair play, they put their hands up to take one, I would never knock anyone who steps up to take a pen, they deserve credit for doing it. I was up next. I wanted to bury my own little demon from the play-off final."

Unfortunately he never got the chance as Weymouth scored their first three, winning 3-0 on penalties. After enjoying success in his first three play-off campaigns, Bonner has now tasted defeat in the last four.

He said: “Saturday was probably the worst I have felt, probably because of the way we had played in the build-up, I felt if anyone deserved to go up it was us but all credit to Weymouth, they took three good penalties and that is what it came down to.”

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