MATCH PREVIEW: Dartford vs Chippenham Town | National League South | Saturday 11th February 2023
Simon Lawrence previews our away game against Dartford.
And just like that, Chippenham are back on the road in the Vanarama National League South this weekend as the Blue Army rolls into Kent, more specifically Princes Park to take on high-flying Dartford FC.
Last Time Out
The Bluebirds come into the game still feeling the sting of defeat, a feeling they haven’t felt since last year following Saturdays loss to Braintree Town FC. The starting line-up for the Bluebirds was changed from the team that fought back to a draw with Hungerford Town FC with Leighton Tuodolo being replaced by the returning Aaron Simpson, Alefe Santos preferred to Alex Bray and Craig Fasanmade coming in for Harry Parsons following the end of his loan and his return to Swindon Town. Spencer Hamilton returned to the bench following his time away and new signing Owen Windsor made the bench with the ink still wet on his new deal with the club. The Bluebirds started brightly with plenty of possession, controlling the ball well in areas and looking to break down their opponents. Braintree however, proved they were more than up to the task of standing up to the Bluebirds. Against the run of play however, it was Braintree that took the lead. A free kick was launched towards the impressive Alfie Pavey who flicked the ball on. A first time cross was then met by the head of Joseph Boachie who thumped his header past Will Henry to give the Iron a 1-0 lead.
Chippenham then stepped up the pressure again with the movement of McClure being tricky to pick up, the pace of Fasanmade causing issues and the midfield once again looking to transfer the play between both wings. And then it happened again! Another free kick from deep was pumped up towards the big men. After several attempts to get the ball clear, it was again Joseph Boachie who stabbed the ball past Will Henry, this time with his foot to give Braintree a 2-0 lead heading into half time. What followed was one of the strangest halves of football in recent memory. Heading down the slope, Chippenham started much the brighter of the two sides with Craig Fasanmade going in on goal and looking to go around Jack Sims. The two collided and saw Fas and the visiting goalkeeper needing treatment for about 5 MINUTES (this will be key later). Then something I can honestly say I have never seen live. The Braintree counter attack was in full flow, they were bursting up the slope and looking likely to score. At this point, referee Craig Scriven was on the floor, beating the ground and seemingly clutching his knee. After 10 MINUTES at least of being on the floor receiving treatment, with another referee already in the dressing room getting his kit on, Craig Scriven got up, was seemingly moving OK and was able to continue. The clock was now at 60 minutes, and we had managed about 1 MINUTE of actual play, the rest coming in the form of time spent with various people on the floor. Chippenham went about using the remaining time to find themselves a way back into the game knowing that there would be a lengthy additional time period at the end of the 90 if they could find a goal without shipping one. Plenty of Chippenham pressure followed with a flowing move looking certain to end in a goal for Luke Russe but Jack Sims tipped the midfielders effort over the bar. Craig Fasanmade was next to think he had pulled one back for the Bluebirds, but the flag of the linesman was in the air indicating that Fas’ headed effort would not make it 2 in 2 upon his return to the side. Russe made way for Alex Bray and the Welshman injected a bit of pace into the side coming down the slope and the goal was looking inevitable. Caine Bradbury came on for Alefe Santos and then with around 5 minutes plus added time (Which by our count stood around 15) Owen Windsor came on to mark his official debut for the club since signing earlier in the week. It took the former West Brom striker only 3 minutes and one touch of the ball to find the back of the net. A ball into the box forcing Jack Sims into a good save however, Windsor arrived through the bodies to smash the ball into the back of the net. With the ball back on the spot for kick off and the goal timed at 88 minutes, Chippenham were now looking at the additional time period to rescue a point for the second straight game.
Match Center: Chippenham Town 1-2 Braintree Town
Then a moment of real contention. Referee Craig Scriven indicated that 8 MINUTES of additional time would be played. With the injury to Sims and Fasanmade, the injury to Scriven himself and the ‘game management’ from the Braintree side looking at running the clock down, Bluebirds fans were shocked that only 8 minutes would be added on with at least 15 minutes of the second half spent with players and the referee getting treatment even without all the other stuff. Those 8 minutes however were enough for another big chance. Joe Hanks was fouled on the edge of the 18-yard box. With Caine Bradbury stood over the ball, Chippenham fans who have watched the academy graduate for a while now knew this was a speciality of the youngster. The free kick went up and over the wall and the ground held its collective breath. The net rippled and every single person in ground thought it was in.
Sadly, however for Chippenham Town, ball clipped the side netting and the bar rattled as it hit the support in the top left stanchion. An excellent effort but alas, one that bought the game to an end and Braintree players and management ran to celebrate with their 5 supporters behind the goal who were excellent all afternoon and a real credit to the Iron for travelling all that way and providing such great support.
Chippenham manager Gary Horgan cut a disappointed figure at full time knowing his side were probably on the balance the better side and after such a long time away from their home ground, didn’t get the result that they hoped to deliver to the supporters. However, Horgan was quick to rally the troops as it often is with the case in the National League South, the games don’t get any easier and next up for the Bluebirds is a trip to Dartford FC, followed by a visit from Ebbsfleet United on Tuesday night!
Dartford FC are a side that need little to no introduction at this level. Relegated to the National League South in the same season we were promoted to it, Dartford have found themselves carrying the burden of being league favourites almost every season and with good reason. In 2017/18, The Darts missed out on winning the league to Havant & Waterlooville on goal difference before falling to eventual winners Braintree Town in the Play-Offs. In 2019, Steve King took over at Dartford and guided them to the Play-Off final where they would eventually lose on penalties to Weymouth missing all three kicks in the shootout to condemn Dartford to another season in the National League South. Dartford would again make the Play-Offs last season, again under Steve King where they would meet the team who finished 7th in the Vanarama National League South in the eliminator. The team they would meet of course was Chippenham Town who famously won through to the game by beating Havant & Waterlooville 2-0 on the final day of the regular season.
King and Dartford would once again fall short with a 0-0 draw followed by another penalty shootout. This time Will Henry would save 3 of the spot kicks before Alefe Santos placed his strike past Reece Charles-Cook to send Chippenham through and Dartford back to the drawing board once again. This was enough it would seem for the board to seek change and Steve King was removed from the hotseat and the vacant managers position was filled by former Woking manager, Alan Dowson. Under Dowson this season, Dartford have been absolutely flying and currently lie 2nd in the National League South only 2 points behind the leaders Ebbsfleet United albeit with the Fleet having a game in hand over the Darts. However, encouragingly for Chippenham fans who might think on paper this is a total write off, Dartford come into the game winless in three with defeats to Hemel Hempstead, Worthing and a draw against Welling leaving Dartford with only 1 point from a possible 9 in the last 3 games, something they will no doubt be looking to remedy against Chippenham as revenge for last season in the Play-Offs and earlier in the season where Dartford were beaten by Chippenham at the TS Stadium.
Dartford came to Chippenham earlier in the season, once again favourites alongside the Fleet for the National League South title, however after Maxwell Statham gave Dartford the lead, the man who knocked them out the previous season with a penalty, scored one again to equalise before Jordan Young dispatched a trademark free kick in injury time to give Chippenham a very deserved 2-1 win on the day and give the Blues their first win of the season.
Ones to Watch
With the qualities of a club like Dartford, ones to watch is basically a potential roll call however, we have decided to shine the light on a midfielder this week. Samir Carruthers. The 29-year-old Irish-born midfielder is currently the top scorer for the Darts this season with 9 goals already! As a youngster, Carruthers spent time with both Arsenal and Aston Villa with the latter offering him his first pro deal making 3 appearances for the Villains including a Premier League debut against Liverpool in a 1-1 draw! He headed off on loan to the MK Dons before making the switch permanent. With over 100 appearances for MK, he moved for around £250,000 to Sheffield United, He helped the Blades win League One in 2017/18 before leaving at the end of the year to join Cambridge United. When his time came to an end at Cambridge, he made his way into the non-League scene with Hemel before switching to Dartford in 2022. An absolute live wire of a midfielder last season, Carruthers will cause a world of problems for Chippenham if he is allowed to dictate the pace of the game and it will no doubt be a key battle on the pitch when Samir Carruthers (one of the best attacking midfielders in the league) meets Luke Russe (one of the best defensive midfielders in the league) on Saturday at Princes Park. Chippenham fans will also be on the lookout for a long-term foe in the form of Tom Bonner on Saturday. The veteran centre back is still the captain of Dartford, and his aerial presence is a real handful in both boxes.
Familiar faces was a really difficult one this week and a real stretch, but we just about managed to make it work. In 2008, Chippenham Town took a youngster on loan from Bristol Rovers called Ben Swallow. He went on to make a half decent non-League career upon his release and as a lot of players do, bounced around clubs in the non-League world. One of those clubs that Swallow managed to bounce too was Dartford in 2014 before being transferred to Havant & Waterlooville later that season.
In 2000, Chippenham Town descended on Wembley Stadium for an FA Vase Final date with Deal Town! Although it wasn’t to be on that fateful day in May, Deal Town and Chippenham Town would be linked forever by that occasion and the manager of Deal Town, Tommy Sampson, became a friend to the club and even contributed to the building of the extension of the seating in the main stand which you can see prominently featured in the TS Stadium on the plaque in the main stand. Tommy Sampson before he was manager of Deal Town spent 6 years at Dartford making over 200 appearances for the Darts and later managing the club in 2001 until 2005.
For Chippenham, it looks as if one positive from Saturday’s defeat to Braintree was that nobody was injured, and no suspensions were picked up so Gary Horgan will once again have a large squad to pick from. With Alex Bray, Caine Bradbury and particularly Owen Windsor making impacts off the bench on Saturday as well as the looming return of Eddie Jones to full fitness, Horgs will have the pleasure of almost a full complement to try and plot the downfall of the Darts.
A lot can be said for omens in football. When things aren’t quite going your way, you need a little luck, perseverance and a lot of support and positive vibes. The last time Chippenham played these two sides back-to-back was last season in the National League South Play-Offs! I for one remember those two games with a tremendous amount of fondness not only for the results on the pitch and the passion for this club shown by our players but for the way the supporters of this club really united behind the side and were given a brilliant memory to take forward with them as a reward. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Forums have given us all over the years a platform for our voice, our opinion to be heard and more importantly for those players and management that need our support to hear it! So, if you can’t make it to Dartford on Saturday, flood the socials with positive vibes, belief and passion because when you face adversity in this life, there is no better way to respond than with the support and love of those who share in the same goal, take to the Forums and Twitter and whatnot and send your good luck messages to your favourite player or players and let’s bring back something from this incredibly difficult game. See some of you Saturday, hopefully see all of you Tuesday and as always..
COME ON YOU BLUEBIRDS