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Dartford 1 St Albans City 1 (St Albans won 5-3 on pens) match report: National League South Play-off Semi-final

Dartford suffered play-off penalty heartache for the second successive season – and the third time in four years – to lose Sunday’s National League South Play-off Semi-final against St Albans at Princes Park.

Samir Carruthers saw St Albans keeper Dylan Berry make a fine save low down to his right from Dartford’s first spot-kick. It proved a telling miss.​​​​​​

Dartford and St Albans go head to head during Sunday’s National League South Play-off Semi-Final. Picture: Keith Gillard
Dartford and St Albans go head to head during Sunday’s National League South Play-off Semi-Final. Picture: Keith Gillard

Shaun Jeffers had already put St Albans ahead, and Glenn McConnell, Zane Banton, Chay Cooper and Joe Neal all netted.

Dartford’s Luke Coulson, Charlie Sheringham and Keiran Murtagh all converted their penalties but St Albans made it five out of five to book their place in next weekend’s final.

It was a fourth play-off defeat in six years for Dartford whose quest for a return to the National League goes on for at least another 12 months.

The game started at a ferocious pace with St Albans immediately looking for the silky skills of Zane Banton down the left wing while on-loan Charlton man Richard Chin was prominent for the hosts – both covering back to double up on Banton as well as an attacking force.

Inside three minutes, Chin fed Maxwell Statham, whose shot was beaten away by keeper Dylan Berry following a long throw-in from Sam Odaudu.

Long throws were an early feature of Dartford’s game plan with centre-backs Tom Bonner and Connor Essam both going forward as they looked to utilise their height advantage.

After 10 minutes, Harvey Bradbury flicked the ball on for Chin, whose right-foot shot lacked enough power to trouble Berry.,

But the breakthrough arrived just two minutes later. Statham won an excellent tackle against Mitchell Weiss on halfway and the ball looped perfectly into the path of Bradbury. His first touch was perfect, the lob over keeper Berry was sublime for his sixth Dartford goal.

Dartford’s Harvey Bradbury puts them ahead during Sunday’s Play-off Semi-Final. Picture: Keith Gillard
Dartford’s Harvey Bradbury puts them ahead during Sunday’s Play-off Semi-Final. Picture: Keith Gillard
Harvey Bradbury celebrates after putting Dartford ahead. Picture: Keith Gillard
Harvey Bradbury celebrates after putting Dartford ahead. Picture: Keith Gillard

St Albans, 1-0 extra-time winners at Chelmsford in Tuesday’s eliminator, took a while to respond. Chay Cooper’s free-kick went over the bar, Devante Stanley shot wide and Banton forced keeper Ben Dudszinski to save his low shot just before the half-hour.

Dartford had nearly doubled their lead by that stage, Berry producing an outstanding one-handed save to deny Jordan Wynter following a left-wing corner.

The Darts lost the influential Chin to injury and his replacement Pierre Fonkeu nearly had an immediate sight of goal but Luke Coulson was unable to play him in on a swift counter-attack.

The equaliser arrived four minutes before the break when a low corner from Cooper was turned in at the near post by Aidan Francis-Clarke.

Dartford were nearly ahead straight after the break but Luke Allen turned the ball straight at Berry after good persistence by Fonkeu.

St Albans striker Shaun Jeffers, their main danger, was booked on 65 minutes, a second foul in as many minutes on Connor Essam testing referee Ruebyn Ricardo’s patience too far. The official had already booked St Albans Joy Mukena and Dartford’s Odaudu either side of the break.

After St Albans enjoyed long spells of possession, without ever threatening to score a second goal, the home side turned to Samir Carruthers with just under 15 minutes of normal time left.

Neither team were creating much, although Darts keeper Ben Dudszinski was nearly left red-faced when his poor clearance hit Cooper with three minutes left but thankfully the ball bounced well away from his vacant goal.

Dartford had a chance at the other end with a minute left but Berry kept out Bonner’s header from a Coulson free-kick and with both teams cancelling each other out, the game went to extra-time.

Both teams had chances early on in extra-time, Carruthers picking the run of Coulson, whose right-foot shot was blocked by Berry, before Banton slid in at the far post but couldn’t direct his effort on target.

Essam’s header in the second period of extra-time lacked power, just moments after St Albans wasted an excellent break as both teams looked increasingly tired despite a flurry of substitutions.

Dartford: Dudszinski, Statham, Essam, Bonner, Odaudu, Chin (Fonkeu 31mins), Allen (Sheringham 91mins), Wynter, J Smith (Carruthers 77mins), Coulson, Bradbury (Murtagh 91mins). Sub not used: Wilks.

St Albans: Berry, Stanley (McConnell 91mins), Francis-Clarke, Adebiyi (Clark 46mins), Blackman, Jeffers, Banton, Weiss (Neal 90mins), Mukena, B Smith (Dawson 106mins), Cooper. Sub not used: Sundire.

Referee: Ruebyn Ricardo.

Attendance: 3,230.

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