Published: 16:45, 27 April 2019
| Updated: 18:13, 27 April 2019
Dartford's play-off hopes went up in smoke at Oxford City on the last day of the season.
Results elsewhere went their way, with Billericay and St Albans both losing at home to open the door for Darts to snatch seventh place in National League South.
But the visitors blew a half-time lead and, had it not been for goalkeeper Louis Wells, would have lost by more at Marsh Lane.
Dartford were unchanged from the 2-1 win over Billericay on Easter Monday, with Andy Pugh fit enough to be named among the substitutes.
A low-key start saw Ryan Hayes pick out Charlie Sheringham with a cross from the right, although he failed to connect properly with his header and was flagged offside anyway.
Oxford started to take up some good positions and Josh Ashby saw his shot charged down inside the penalty area as the visitors survived a couple of scares.
Hayes looped a header into Craig King's gloves when Dan Johnson's floated left-wing reached him in space at the far post.
There was momentary panic in the City defence when King spilled a Lee Noble corner in the six-yard box but he was able to recover and drop on the ball.
It was a strange atmosphere, with very few home supporters inside the ground while the travelling contingent waited nervously on news from elsewhere.
Kabongo Tshimanga's heavy touch let him down when an Ashby free-kick dropped nicely for him but City kept up the pressure with a series of set-pieces.
Jordan Wynter slipped as one corner came in and Wells did well to prevent an own goal, scrambling to push the ball round the post.
Dartford then started to enjoy a good spell, with Joe Oastler almost hacking a Noble cross into his own net before the visitors took the lead on 34 minutes.
Noble did superbly to win a free-kick after spinning inside from the left flank and when Oxford failed to deal with Hayes' whipped delivery and Wynter helped the ball back into the danger zone, there was Vint to score with a header from close range.
City seemed to have left their shooting boots at home, with Jack Self and Brandon Thomas-Asante both missing the target by a long way after neat build-up had created two good openings.
It was looking good at the break, with St Albans 2-0 down at home to Torquay and Billericay being held by Bath.
But the home side made a strong start to the second half and Callum Driver did well to block an Ashby shot before Thomas-Asante's poor connection in front of goal allowed Wells to gather.
However, the goal City were threatening arrived in the 50th minute, substitute Zac McEachran beating Wells with a dipping shot from 25 yards.
Dartford dropped deeper and deeper, inviting the home side on, and Thomas-Asante flashed a shot across the face of goal before Wells managed to scramble an effort against the post.
News filtered through that Billericay had conceded twice in their game but Dartford's task became harder when some wretched defending allowed Tshimanga to roll a low shot into the far corner.
City looked like scoring every time they went forward and there were some boos from the away fans when Ben Greenhalgh was taken off midway through the second half.
It would have been game over had Wells not stuck out a foot to deny Tshimanga a second goal as the striker ran clean through. It was so easy for Oxford to pass their way into shooting positions and Bobson Bawling was the next player to work Wells.
The goalkeeper was single-handedly keeping Dartford in the game, producing fine saves to thwart Craig Fasanmade and Thomas-Asante as Oxford continued to cut Dartford wide open.
When the visitors did win a free-kick on the edge of the City box, Hayes swirled his effort over the crossbar and Dartford survived a big penalty shout when Tom Bonner, the last man, tangled with Tshimanga as he ran through on goal.
Some of Dartford's body language wasn't great towards the end, with a few players having clearly given up.
In the end, it was Wealdstone who took the final play-off place, with the Darts left to rue what might have been.
Oxford: King, Self, Case, Ashby, Moore-Azille (McEachran 46mins), Oastler, Wiltshire, Fleet, Tshimanga, Thomas-Asante, Bawling (Fasanmade 74mins). Subs not used: Caro, O'Donoghue, Carter.
Dartford: Wells, Driver, Vint, Bonner, Johnson, Hayes, Wynter, Noble, Greenhalgh (Coker 68mins), McQueen, Sheringham (Murphy 56mins). Subs not used: Evans, Smith, Pugh.
More by this authorSteve Tervet
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