Dartford served up a Halloween treat as they survived an early horror show at home to Weston-super-Mare on Tuesday night.
Weston played Dartford off the park in the first half-hour but a missed penalty proved crucial as the Darts responded to take the points despite two-goal substitute Alex Wall being sent off deep into stoppage time.
Dartford paired Harvey Bradbury and Lewis Manor together up front, presumably in an attempt to win the physical battle against a Weston side who will be one of the smallest in the division.
Instead, it was the visitors who got the ball down and passed it around a Dartford side who were well off the pace. Too many times, home defenders stayed back and let Weston receive the ball in space. Manager Alan Dowson must have been close to losing his voice given the amount of times he shouted ‘get tighter’ to his team.
Maxwell Statham headed wide from an early Luke Coulson corner but it was a rare bright spark in the opening half-hour for Dartford.
Weston had all the ball thereafter but only an ambitious Reuben Reid shot from the halfway line that picked out keeper Mitchell Beeney in the ninth minute to show for their efforts.
Then Joash Nembhard did well to block Weston captain Dayle Grubb’s low drive as the visitors found an alarming amount of space in the penalty area. Moments later, Beeney was out smartly to deny Robbie Willmott, who went clean through.
Harvey Bradbury curling shot at the other end was turned behind by keeper Harrison Lee but Weston’s dominance of the play continued.
They took the lead on 23 minutes when a ball over the top found Reid in acres of space and he rounded Beeney before slotting home.
It was almost an immediate response for the Darts but Coulson’s left-wing cross was unable to be turned in by Bradbury and Manor.
Weston had a glorious chance to confirm their dominance just before the half-hour. Nembhard was caught the wrong side of Reid from a free-kick and promptly hauled him down in the box.
Referee Robert Claussen amazingly didn’t show a card and Dartford had a further let-off when Beeney correctly dived to his left to keep out Reid’s spot-kick.
Bradbury’s frustrations were continuing to grow at the other end and he was booked for a fourth foul in 31 minutes, spotted by the assistant referee. Ironically, when the play next went into the assistant’s vicinity he failed to spot either Bradbury’s high boot or the subsequent trip on the Darts striker.
For all of Weston’s dominance, Dartford thought they had levelled matters on 36 minutes when Manor headed back Coulson’s free-kick for Paul Rooney to turn home but the referee judged that Manor had fouled his marker.
Rooney was not to be denied and he slotted in the equaliser three minutes later. Weston had a corner but the Darts broke and Coulson carried the ball from one penalty area to the other without being challenged, eventually squaring for Rooney to volley home.
Remarkably, Dartford went into the break on level terms and it quickly got better for the home side.
Many fans were still in the bar when Kieran Thomas tripped Manor in the box and Coulson stepped up to convert the penalty via the underside of the crossbar.
It prompted a shift of momentum, Dowson clearly sorting his side out at half-time as they got on top. Altintop’s right-foot shot was deflected wide, and Tyrell Miller-Rodney’s effort was blocked.
Weston took until the hour mark to get themselves together in the second half. Grubb shot at Beeney from distance before James Murton and substitute Luke Pearce had shots deflected wide.
Weston made the most out of every Bradbury challenge but it was strike partner Manor - short of minutes - who made way for Alex Wall with 25 minutes left.
Pearce was then fed on the edge of the box but drilled narrowly wide of the upright as Weston pushed for an equaliser.
But it was Dartford who extended their lead on 69 minutes, Rooney won the ball off Jacob Cane in midfield, and Coulson and Bradbury combined to give Wall a close-range tap-in.
At the other end, Grubb shot wastefully wide from the edge of the box as Weston’s short corners - they didn’t take another long one after being caught on the counter for the first Dartford goal - continued to ask questions.
Dartford added a fourth with five minutes left, Coulson’s cross diverted into the far corner by Wall before Weston bagged a consolation in the fourth minute of added time as Pearce slotted into the bottom corner.
There was still late drama as Wall was amazingly shown a second yellow card a minute later, the referee deeming he clipped Rex Mannings on the edge of the box when there appeared to be no contact.
The result moved Dartford to within two points of the play-off places, albeit having played more games than the sides around them.
Dartford: Beeney, Statham, Nembhard, Diarra, Altintop, Wynter, Rooney (Woods 90+2mins), Miller-Rodney, Coulson, Bradbury (Allen 82mins), Manor (Wall 65mins). Subs not used: Adebowale, Barzey.
Weston: Lee, Thomas, Humphries, Pope, Bastin, Edwards (Mannings 53mins), Cane, Murton, Grubb, Willmott, Reid (Pearce 53mins). Subs not used: Purnell, Avery, Roddy.
Referee: Robert Claussen.