By Callum Townsend
Despite a mostly positive performance in the rain for Dartford on opening day, it was 10-man Bath who left Princes Park in elation after rescuing a National League South draw from the jaws of defeat on Saturday.
Dartford started on the front-foot, forcing two corners early into the game which were swung in by newly-named captain Luke Coulson, following the departure of Tom Bonner in the summer.
The Darts remained dominant for the majority of the first half, but were given a wake-up call in the ninth minute when Dan Hayfield nodded home at the near-post, and saved only by the linesman’s flag.
The early scare was followed by a succession of unsuccessful Dartford chances, most notably when Harvey Bradbury latched onto a ball over the top by keeper Mitchell Beeney, but saw his one-on-one effort saved by Ollie Wright, before the Romans’ keeper denied Brandon Barzey’s follow-up.
Kieran Parselle received the first booking of the game as he was punished for dissent, and as such the tone of the new officiating rules of the English game was certainly stamped on this match, with a further four yellows being brandished throughout (not including Jack Batten’s second).
Following the new rules, there were an additional eight minutes added onto the first half, and it was Dartford who made the most of this time to break the deadlock.
Luke Allen’s ball into the box from the right was initially missed by Bradbury and Barzey, and the pair both had efforts on goal blocked in a scramble after the ball came back in via Luke Coulson. Within the madness, the ball found its way to debutant Tyrell Miller-Rodney on the edge of the box, who slammed it into the roof of the net to give the Darts the lead. A scrappy goal, which best surmised a rain-hampered first half.
Much like the first, the second half began with a flurry of attacks from the home team, as Coulson won a free-kick just to the left of the box. A clever attempt almost paid off, as his effort towards the vacated near post was saved by Wright.
This was followed by another big chance, as a Barzey delivery pin-balled through the Bath box to Allen on the edge, who just fired wide with a guided effort on his left foot.
Despite this, there were warning signs on offer from the Bath attack, as just five minutes later a long-range attempt from Smith clipped the top of the bar, leaving many of the 904 in attendance with their hearts in their mouths.
Much to the relief of the home fans, Coulson put the Darts 2-0 ahead with an outstanding goal in typical Coulson fashion. The ball fell to the winger on the edge of the box, and he lashed it into the far corner, which he celebrated with Luke Allen’s typical ‘golf swing’ celebration.
Any relief was, however, short-lived. An array of defensive disasters led to two big chances in close proximity. Firstly, a ball in behind on Dartford’s left, which found its way into the box and was gathered by Ewan Clark after an initial attempt was denied, and the number 12 almost danced the ball into the back of the net.
Then, the Dartford defence failed to deal with a long ball into the attacking force of Bath, and the notorious strike partnership of Cooke and Wilson led to good link-up play and substitute Wilson scuffed a shot past Beeney to equalise for the Romans.
Not long after this, Coulson had an excellent chance to restore Dartford’s lead, but he volleyed the ball high and wide at the back post.
Dartford were able to show their grit and they managed to steer themselves ahead again in the 83rd minute. Bradbury’s flick on from a long ball found Allen on the left, who drove down the line before chopping in on his stronger right foot, chipping the ball into Coulson at the back post, who struck the ball into the ground and past Wright to make it 3–2.
The closing stages of the game were certainly not comfortable for Dartford, continuing the cagey affair that the game had been with strong challenges and calls for all sorts of refereeing decisions. Ten additional minutes were provided after the end of the 90, and halfway through this Bath’s Jack Batten was dismissed following a second yellow for his challenge on Allen.
However, the Romans were certainly not down and out, as the 10 men came forward again. Just a minute later, Jordan Thomas found himself free on the left side of the box, and his left-footed attempt curled past Beeney to level the game again, leading to jubilant celebrations in front of the Bath faithful.
The points were ultimately shared following the conclusion of a breath-taking thriller, leaving much to be desired from Alan Dowson’s defence, which he described as “bloody awful” in his post-match interview, and a sour taste after what was a good showing going forward.