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Ebbsfleet United 1 Dartford 1

By Steve Tervet
Lee Noble
Lee Noble

Ebbsfleet and Dartford will meet in a replay at Princes Park on Tuesday night after playing out a pulsating draw in Saturday's FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie.

A crowd of almost 3,000 crammed into Stonebridge Road for the north Kent derby, which had drama at its start and end.

Ben May missed an early penalty and Lee Noble put the Darts ahead, but Anthony Cook's second-half strike means the two local rivals must do it all again for the right to play in the first round proper.

With a groin injury ruling out Joe Howe, Osei Sankofa deputised at right-back for the Fleet. Cambridge United loanee Andy Pugh had to watch from the stands but there was a recall for Billy Bricknell, who partnered May in attack. Alex Osborn came back into the team after injury.

On-loan striker Matt Godden wasn't included in the Dartford squad, having been refused permission by parent club Scunthorpe to play, and therefore become cup-tied. Gillingham loanee Adam Birchall missed out for the same reason, while Tyrone Sterling (calf), Kenny Clark (hamstring) and Jason Prior (ankle) were all absent as well.

That meant Josh Hill was thrust into central defence alongside Mat Mitchel-King, with Nathan Collier, having spent most of the season in a defensive role, moved forward to support Danny Harris at the head of a 4-4-2 formation.

Unsurprisingly, the game began at a frantic pace.

Matt Fry fouled Osborn on the corner of the box and Daryl McMahon's inswinging free-kick deflected off a Darts head, forcing an excellent reflex save from Alan Julian.

But the home side kept pressing and they were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead on 11 minutes.

A sweeping pass from McMahon sent Cook marauding into the box and Julian, attempting to salvage the situation, sent the winger sprawling. Referee Nick Kinseley pointed straight to the spot and booked Julian.

May stepped up but he smashed his penalty over the bar.

That put the large travelling support in good voice, although the Fleet continued to press.

Billy Bricknell led a three-on-one break but when he laid the ball to his left, Cook delayed his shot and Dartford were able to clear.

Lee Burns put Julian in trouble with a heavy backpass and the Darts keeper skied the ball high in the air. Osborn collected it when it dropped to earth, but his shot sailed over.

Gradually, though, the Skrill Premier side began to gain a foothold.

Noble and Alex Woodyard worked a left-wing corner to Ryan Hayes on the edge of the box but he couldn't keep his shot down.

The increasingly wild weather in north Kent didn't do much for the spectacle of the game, but its intensity never relented.

Woodyard sent a low shot skidding past the base of the post, before a dangerous Harris cross dropped just too far in front of the onrushing Collier.

However, just as the half seemed destined to end scoreless, Dartford struck.

Elliot Bradbrook's effort was superbly blocked by Sankofa but Noble followed up to plant the ball into the far corner.

Lee Noble, second right, celebrates his opener (Pic: Andy Payton)
Lee Noble, second right, celebrates his opener (Pic: Andy Payton)

Noble had another go at the start of the second half, when Hayes' right-wing cross was only half-cleared, but the midfielder's volley sliced off the outside of his boot and sailed into the Darts supporters on the terracing.

At the other end, McMahon coaxed a half-volley just past the post after Aiden Palmer's deep cross from the left had found its way to him on the edge of the box.

Ebbsfleet looked low on ideas but then came their equaliser.

With 65 minutes played, Bricknell got to the byline down the right and cut the ball back for Cook, who slammed it emphatically beyond Julian.

Anthony Cook takes the congratulations after bringing Ebbsfleet level
Anthony Cook takes the congratulations after bringing Ebbsfleet level

That completely changed the mood around Stonebridge Road. The home fans, who had been watching on nervously, suddenly found their voices and began to roar the Fleet forward.

Neither side made a change until 10 minutes from the end, when injury forced Shane Huke out of the action. Chris Sessegnon took his place and Sankofa shuffled across to centre-half.

Hayes headed a left-wing cross over from close range, before the hosts went close at the other end, Osborn's volleyed cross just too strong for May.

The home side went agonisingly close to a last-minute winner. Julian saved superbly from Sessegnon, before May, who did well to turn, had his goalbound shot deflected just past the past for a corner.

But Dartford survived and both sides will be in the first round draw on Sunday afternoon.

Ebbsfleet: Edwards; Sankofa, Lorraine, Huke (Sessegnon 79mins), Palmer; Osborn (Thalassitis 85mins), McMahon, Rance, Cook; May, Bricknell. Subs not used: Hall, Corcoran, Long, Phipp, Green.

Dartford: Julian; Burns, Hill, Mitchel-King, Fry; Hayes, Woodyard, Bradbrook, Noble; Harris (Ibemere 86mins), Collier. Subs not used: Cornhill, Porter, Monger, Eisa, Akinwande, Forecast.

Attendance: 2,895.

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