Published: 06:00, 24 September 2021
Ade Azeez is using his head in more ways than one in a bid to fire Dartford to glory this season.
The 27-year-old striker took his tally for the season to seven in as many appearances with a treble against Hythe in last weekend’s FA Cup win at Princes Park.
The forward’s perfect hat-trick included Azeez’s fourth far-post header of the campaign – quite an achievement for a player who, by his own admission, didn’t realise his aerial potential earlier in his career.
“I never used to like heading to be honest,” said the Charlton academy product. “People always used to say work on it and you can score X, Y, Z goals a season and I was like yeah but…
“It’s proved now though that heading is so important, you see with the top strikers in the world, any level, how many headed goals they score - look at Ronaldo. I’m still working on it and thank God I’m seeing the rewards now.”
It helped Azeez score his first FA Cup hat-trick, his only other treble coming in an EFL Trophy game for Cambridge against Southampton under-21s nearly three years ago.
It’s a sign of Azeez’s growing maturity that he still realises there is room for improvement - and a focus on heading goals is certainly helping Dartford head in the right direction.
He added: “When I was younger, I thought I didn’t even want to score goals with my head.
“When you’re young you want to score goals from the halfway line, or cutting in and finishing, but at the end of the day no-one really cares about how the ball goes in the back of the net, they just want to win. Fans want to win, players want to win, coaching staff want to win.
“You have to be smart about how you get your goals and what’s the most effective way. As a striker you want to be inside that box heading, but even if it hits your bum or your big toe, you have to be in there. It’s an art to be in there and position yourself in the right place. You’ve got to be smart and it’s not all about yourself, you’ve got to help the team.
“When I first knew I really had to work on it, although I was young and I pulled away from it still as I was naive, was Paul Hart when he was my coach at Charlton. He told me that I was a big lad with a good leap and could score goals with my head. I worked on it a lot, and funnily enough that season I scored a lot with my head.
“But as you’re young, you drift away from it. It shows me now that you have to work hard at it, no matter how good you feel or how natural it is, you still have to work at it but I didn’t. Now I’m older and I’m seeing the rewards and how it has helped not just myself, but the team as well, I’m going to carry on working at it.”
Azeez is not just using his head to score goals. The former AFC Wimbledon and Cambridge United striker has always been a willing learner. He knows practice makes perfect and the training ground work at Dartford has clearly paid off.
It’s that desire to improve, to be the best version of himself that he can that is bringing the best out of a forward who - like his manager Steve King - knows he can get even better.
“I’m always one for hard work pays off,” said Azeez. “I’ve always been like that. I’ve always worked hard at anything I do. When you score goals and create goals, from things you do in training, and as players from the bits you do at the end, it is always nice and rewarding.
“It’s a start, I just want to keep carrying on this season. I feel blessed to have scored this amount of goals, we’re winning and we’re top of the league but we can’t get complacent, either individually or as a team.
“We’ve got to keep working hard, every day in training and in every match. We need to show why we’re top and keep going, that’s really important.
“I know I’ve still got loads of things to work on, and I want to work on it. That’s the first thing, you have to see and realise the things you’re good at and work at them, then the things you’re not so good at you have to work even harder. The more I work on it, the better we’ll be as a unit. I’m going to keep doing it and see where it gets us.”
It’s a different Azeez to the one who tried hard to impress for Dover in the National League last season. But, it was a season to forget in more ways than one for Azeez who, like many of his team-mates, struggled in a stop-start campaign that was eventually cut short by Whites chairman Jim Parmenter.
Azeez is not the type to dig out a former club, but he recognises the differences this time around at Dartford. Fighting at the top of the division below certainly brings a more positive outlook than struggling for results in non-league’s top flight.
“It was a big factor to come here and enjoy my football,” he said. “It was a no-brainer to sign here, it’s close to home and everything made sense.
“No disrespect to Dover but it wasn’t good on the field or off the field, the way the club was being run, certain things just weren’t ideal and it probably did affect us on the pitch. But coming here is completely different. It’s very professional and that’s what you want.
“It was hard at Dover. I remember playing against Dartford in pre-season and looking back now you couldn’t tell who the team was in the league above. I think we won but the scoreline didn’t reflect what Dartford did to us that day. It’s nice to be in a team now where everything flows and we create a lot of chances.
“Every player is a confidence player, if you’re confident your game goes to another level. But as a striker you get your confidence from, no matter how well you play, scoring.
“If you ask a striker who isn’t scoring that will always be in the back of their head. If you’re a striker and you’re scoring then you feel like you’re going to genuinely score in every game. That’s not an arrogance, it’s just a belief that no matter what happens I will get a chance to help my team and score.”
Which leads Azeez nicely on to his targets for the campaign. He’s not going public but with seven goals already to his name, there’s every chance Dartford’s leading marksman will match his ambitions.
“I’ve got a target but I’m trying not to think about it,” smiled Azeez. “I’m taking every game as it comes and I’ll let you know when I get to the target!”
National League South leaders Dartford travel to managerless Welling this Saturday.
Former Gills boss Steve Lovell quit as Welling manager on Monday after losing at home to Harrow in the FA Cup last weekend.