Dartford match report
match report by James Maw, photos by Simon Roe.
Kingstonian reached the First Round 'proper' of the FA Cup for the first time since 2000-01 with a superb 3-2 win at National League South side Dartford.
Our fans travelled in numbers to the London-Kent borders in the hope of seeing Hayden Bird's side banish memories of VCD Athletic, Poole Town, Brockenhurst and all the other FA Cup humiliations that have haunted so many for so long.
Kingstonian were certainly not overawed by the occasion and absolutely flew out of the traps. Within the first three minutes Louie Theophanous drew a smart save from Darts keeper Mark Smith when blasting a powerful drive across goal from near enough the corner of the penalty area.
If the fans thought something incredible was in the offing, they weren't about to be disappointed.
Dan Hector pounced on a loose ball before seeing his attempted cross blocked. The ball bobbled across the edge of the penalty area and just past Reece Hall, who did superbly to swivel sharply and pull a fiercly-struck shot back across the keeper and into the bottom corner.
The visiting fans were in raptures on the terrace behind the goal, with limbs and ticker-tape flying everywhere. And things would soon get even wilder.
The quick-thinking Hector once again punished indecisive Dartford defending, capitalising on a breakdown in communication in our hosts' back-line. K's No.11 surged into a crossing position, before squaring for Theophanous just about on the penalty spot (insert 'Dartford crossing' pun here - ed).
With his first touch, Louie killed the airborne ball dead. As it dropped gently to his feet, he calmly opened up his body and swept home with his instep. The jubilant carnage behind the goal was completely at odds with the coolness with which the K's forward had stuck the ball in it.
By now Bird's boys were positively purring, and looked like they could score at will. The National League South side looked terrified every time we moved forward with the ball, and who could blame them. K's shifted the ball quickly and with real purpose, and could've made it 3-0 when Fabio's free-kick drew a reflex save from Smith down low to his left.
There were still a few worrying moments - most notably when Andy Pugh headed a cross back across Rob Tolfrey's goal, only to see the ball come back off the post - but it was K's that looked the more likely to score the third goal of the game.
Sure enough, it came when Dan Bennett was felled in the box by Dartford debutant Jordan Gibbons, and Tommy Kavagnah fired home the resultant penalty after tieing his shoelaces for what seemed like 20 minutes. K's were 3-0 up away to a side from the division above, and if it felt too good to be true, that's because it essentially was.
Within an instant, Dartford had reduced the deficit when Pugh found just enough space to slide a shot into the bottom corner to give the Kent side a foothold for the second half.
Emboldened by that goal, Dartford were a team reinvigorated in the second half. First, Ben Greenhalgh dragged a shot dangerously across the face of goal, but just wide. Then centre back Ronnie Vint - up for a free-kick - headed across goal and wide when it looked easier to score.
Tension grew among the travelling K's faithful and their side looked to be rocking for the first time in the game. Passes were starting to go astray and a few panicked challenges flew in.
Kingstonian's sloppiness was punished when Darts substitute Norman Wabo played a through ball and Darren McQueen tucked it under Tolfrey to take Dartford back within touching distance.
By now the tension was almost unbearable - even forcing one long-suffering K to seek solace in the nearest lavatory as the 90th minute approached.
Fortunately the team were far calmer, and were actually able to weather the late onslaught with relative ease, rediscovering control and keeping Dartford at arms' length when it really counted.
The final whistle was met with delirium at the K's end - arms, legs, tears and baseball caps all over the shop. "Absolute scenes", as one fan put it.
"I'm really proud of the team," Bird said after prolonged celebrations with the fans. "I'm proud and privileged to be here [at Kingstonian] and this is the reason I came here. This is just the start - I've said that from day one. I hope the supporters can see a marked difference to what they had seen in the past - no disrespect intended.
"I said to the players that I want this to be or future, because I want this to be a league fixture [in future]."
For the time being at least, K's have the FA Cup (not to mention FA Trophy, Surrey Senior Cup, Isthmian League Cup and Isthmian Premier League) to focus on, having now won as many FA Cup matches this season as they did in the previous six seasons combined.
Could this be the start of something truly special at long last?
Dartford: Mark Smith, Jordan Gibbons, Mark Onyemah, Ronnie Vint, Luke Allen, Luke Wanadio, Ben Greenhalgh, Darren McQueen, Billy Crook, Josh Hill, Andy Pugh.
Subs: Jack Calvert, Tom Bonner (for Ben Greenhalgh, 82m), Ryan Hayes, Jim Town, Max Walsh, Cameron Brodie, Norman Wabo (for Mark Onyemah, 69m).