Dartford (1) 2 Bath City (0) 0 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 21 April 2018 – Princes Park
Bath City were made to pay for a couple of individual errors as Dartford moved a step closer to the National League South title with their fifth successive win against the Romans. It was the first time Jerry Gill’s men had failed to score in an away league match since his first in charge at St Albans, and the result ended all lingering play-off hopes. Dan Ball replaced injury-stricken Kevin Amankwaah from Tuesday’s loss at Weston-super-Mare in the Somerset Premier Cup, with Nat Jarvis recovering from illness to take a place on the bench. Dartford’s squad of 16 had 2,348 appearances between them, but despite their experience they showed nerves early on with rushed clearances giving their attacking trio of Alfie Pavey, Andy Pugh and Danny Mills little to work with.
Alex Brown lashed over when Lee Noble’s free-kick wasn’t fully cleared, and Mills just failed to connect with Pugh’s driven cross from the right. But when the trio next linked up, it was to devastating effect. Brown’s persistence following Luke Southwood’s clearance found Pugh on the right who crossed to the far post, where Mills gleefully headed in his third goal in three games. It was also Mills’ sixth goal against City for three different clubs, and with Dartford winning 23 of 26 league matches having scored first going into the game, it already gave the Romans a mountain to climb. However, they should, have found themselves level before the break. Having linked up with Jack Compton following a corner, Andy Watkins’ far post cross found Jack Batten unmarked, but he wastefully volleyed over from close range.
Soon after the interval, Batten missed a more difficult chance, flicking Compton’s corner over. The Romans were enjoying their best spell of possession. After Watkins was cynically brought down by Tom Bonner, resulting in a caution, Compton’s low free-kick was well grasped by Berti Schotterl diving to his right. Compton’s afternoon was cut short soon after, as he hobbled off to be replaced by James Ollis, making his bow in the league having spent most of the season on dual-registration with Keynsham Town. The substitution showed the difference between the teams’ resources at present. Whereas Bath’s bench had four players aged 20 or under with 15 league appearances between them, Dartford’s five replacements had amassed 1,254 previous outings, with Ryan Hayes, 13 years’ service with the hosts, brought on for Pugh. City tried in vain for a leveller but their afternoon was summed up when Miles Welch-Hayes’ inviting cross into the box saw Opi Edwards and Ollis unable to react quickly enough. When a similar opening occurred at the other end, Dartford weren’t going to turn it down. Having provided a much-needed spark to the home attack, Hayes forced Anthony Straker into a rushed clearance at the back, where Brown picked up the loose ball and drilled it across goal, where Pavey poked in from six yards to give his side breathing space. Hayes curled just over as the hosts’ threatened to give the scoreline a more lopsided look, with Ollis following suit at the other end, Schotterl allowing his effort to float over the bar, the German looking set for a fourth clean sheet in a row. Substitute Duane Ofori-Acheampong should have added further salt into the wounds when he ran clean through, but Southwood made himself big and denied the forward with his legs, denying him scoring in this fixture for the second year running. It didn’t matter to the outcome, but with Havant & Waterlooville also winning by the same scoreline at Chelmsford, the Darts would have appreciated a further post to their slender goal difference, just two better than the Hawks, who face East Thurrock on Tuesday knowing that a win will send both sides into the final game level on points. For Bath, their final two matches are now academic, although Gill will be hoping his side storm rather than stumble over the line and achieve a top-ten finish at least before a likely overhaul in the summer.
City’s Line-Up: Southwood, Welch-Hayes, Straker (c), Richards, Batten, Ball, Edwards, Smith, Semenyo, Watkins (Jarvis 78), Compton (Ollis 56). Subs not used: G Rigg, Morton, Hodges.
Scorers: City – none; Dartford – Mills (37), Pavey (69)
City Bookings: Smith (72)
Officials: J Packman, M Marsh, J Stokes