Dartford (1) 3 Bath City (0) 3 – Saturday 5 August 2023 – Vanarama National League South – Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park

Dartford (1) 3 Bath City (0) 3 – Saturday 5 August 2023 – Vanarama National League South – Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park

Match Report by Mark Stillman

Jordan Thomas’ sublime 95th minute leveller rescued a point for 10-man Bath City in a barmy opening day draw at Dartford.

The Darts were 2-0 up through Tyrell Miller-Rodney and Luke Coulson, before quickfire strikes from debutant Ewan Clark and substitute Scott Wilson had City level with 15 minutes left.

Coulson’s second followed by Jack Batten’s dismissal meant it looked like the Romans’ efforts were to be in vain.

But Thomas silenced Princes Park with a stunning strike near the end of a marathon match which included 18 minutes added time.

Thomas was one of five debutants for the Romans with last year’s runners-up Dartford fielding half a dozen new recruits in their staring XI.

The hosts started the stronger but thought they’d fallen behind on nine minutes when Dan Hayfield powerfully headed Batten’s cross home, only for Daniel Doyle’s flag to rule it out for offside.

Harvey Bradbury shot straight at Ollie Wright when the forward looked offside from Mitch Beeney’s punt forward, with Brandon Barzey denied on the rebound by the alert City keeper.

Thomas and Clark both looked lively for Jerry Gill’s side but during a baffling eight minutes added on to the first half, Dartford broke the deadlock.

Luke Allen’s cross from the right just bypassed Bradbury and Barzey in the middle, Coulson’s pull-back saw Ben Morgan’s interception fall to Barzey, who was brilliantly denied on the line by Kieran Parselle. His heroics were short-lived as the ball fell perfectly to Miller-Rodney who thundered home from 12 yards.

In the second half Allen guided narrowly wide from Baris Altintop’s lay-off before Tom Smith’s curler clipped the angle of post and crossbar with Beeney beaten by the tremendous attempt.

Batten became the fourth City player in the book, a harsh one for impeding Miller-Rodney when a talking to appeared requisite punishment.

It was one of many fouls at the start of the second period which restricted any real flow. Instructions for officials to take a firmer hand was further exemplified by Altintop rightly cautioned on 65 minutes for trying to persuade referee Parkinson to book Cody Cooke.

That was following a foul by the forward and from the resulting free-kick on halfway, the Darts doubled their lead with a stunning finish.

Beeney’s kick was headed out by Morgan to Coulson, whose technique was spot on, superbly lashing into the bottom corner across Wright from 16 yards.

It left City a mountain to climb at a venue where they’d not scored at in their previous six visits, a run stretching back to January 2016.

They swiftly set about making up for lost time. Thomas’ crossfield ball was missed by Sam Odaudu allowing Clark a chance to scamper clear. Having initially unselfishly squared for Cooke, the ball ricocheted back off Allen to Clark, who cut inside and drove home from six yards to halve the deficit.

Three minutes later it was 2-2 as Wilson, introduced immediately after Clark’s goal, needed little time to make an impact.

Cooke’s flick from Wright’s ball forward saw Wilson surrounded by home defenders, but he squeezed a shot home from 12 yards past the outstretched Beeney, who in truth should have kept it out. It was the sixth successive match Wilson had netted in continuing from last season, a feat last achieved in early 2002 by Adrian Foster.

It had turned a rather forgettable contest into a pulsating one. Beeney redeemed himself by palming a Wilson bending strike around the post but City were undone by lax defending to fall behind again on 84 minutes.

Allen’s cross from the left was perfect for Coulson, who escaped Dan Greenslade to volley in past Wright who could only help the ball past him.

Wright denied the excellent Barzey from close range before a mammoth 10 minutes added time included more drama.

Substitute Joe Rabbetts had only been on the field for a minute before he was strongly challenged by Batten, who won the ball, but referee Parkinson deemed the force excessive and sent the stand-in right back off.

It didn’t deter the visitors as there was time for one more twist. Two minutes after going a man down, Smith laid off to Thomas who cut inside of Miller-Rodney and Tommy Block before magnificently planting the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

A memory he’s likely to cherish. The City fans won’t forget this afternoon in a hurry either.

Att: 904

City’s Line-Up: Wright, Greenslade, Batten, Parselle (c), Hayfield (Lines 67), Cooke, Smith, Clark, Thomas, Russe (Wilson 72), Morgan. Subs not used: Frear, Cook.

Scorers: City – Clark (71), Wilson (75), Thomas (90+4); Dartford – Miller-Rodney (45+4), Coulson (66, 84)

City Bookings: Parselle (24), Russe (36), Morgan (45+2), Batten (55)

City Dismissal: Batten (90+3)

Officials: S Parkinson, R Preca, D Doyle