Dartford 3-2 FC Halifax Town

FC Halifax Town.
FC Halifax Town.

FC Halifax Town’s hopes of reaching Wembley were finally ended as they lost in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy at Dartford.

Town can look back on the 180 minutes against the Blue Square Premier outfit with immense pride after two performances peppered with some oustanding football.

And for 45 minutes here, as in the first game against the Kent side, Halifax were one half from the semi-finals following another superb first-half display.

But Dartford fought hard and were made to earn their place in the last four on a bitterly cold night at Princes Park packed with drama.

Town reverted to the same team that came so close to a semi-final place first time around, with Scott McManus shaking off a groin strain to replace Shaun Kelly, while Paul Marshall and Chris Worlsey started instead of the cup-tied Sean Williams and Tom Platt.

Like Saturday’s opponents Corby, the Darts were on the end of a heavy defeat in their previous game, losing 5-0 at Mansfield.

In response to that, manager Tony Burman made four changes, including the recall of captain Elliot Bradbrook after injury.

But Town picked up where they left off at the weekend with a blistering start by taking the lead after just two minutes.

A flowing move saw Liam Needham release McManus down the left, and his low cross was turned in by Dan Gardner, although Marcus Bettinelli may have felt he could have done more to keep it out.

He could have been picking the ball out of his net again soon afterwards if Town turned their early possession into a second goal.

Needham saw his shot blocked before Gardner fired over, while the latter also had a good shout for a penalty turned down when he appeared to be clipped inside the box.

From that, Dartford broke upfield and Danny Harris was sent clean through after a slip in the Town defence, but Matt Glennon reacted superbly to deny him.

Town’s 50 or so away following were soon out-singing their hosts as The Shaymen gave them a display to shout about.

Gardner again provided a crucial bridge between midfield and attack and found himself in some great positions in and around the box, but a combination of wayward finishing and good defending kept his name from the score sheet.

Lee Gregory then saw the ball flash in front of him after brilliant work by Gareth Seddon on the left touchline, but just failed to make a telling connection as the chance went as quickly as it arrived.

Needham was next to have a sight of goal as he headed over from Ryan Toulson’s dangerous cross, with Town again belying their status as the lower-ranked team in the tie.

If the home supporters were expecting to see a reaction to their team’s 5-0 humbling last time out, they would have been very disappointed.

But Dartford did finally put a spell of pressure together after the half-hour mark, with first Jacob Erskine, almost anonymous in the reverse fixture at The Shay, then Danny Harris going close.

Erskine prodded wide from a chance that deserved a better finish before Glennon pulled off another outstanding save low to his right to deny Harris from an equally presentable opportunity inside the area.

Town’s resilience that was so evident at The Shay a week ago was emphasised when Ryan Hayes’ thunderous free-kick from the edge of the box on the verge of half-time was blocked by the Halifax wall.

The real Dartford appeared to have turned up towards the end of the half, and raced out of the blocks after the interval.

An amazing three minute spell saw the game turn completely on its head as Dartford went in front for the first time in the tie.

First Lee Noble found himself perfectly placed to execute a precise finish on the edge of the box after Erskine’s lay-off.

But before Town could react, skipper Elliot Bradbrook showed what his side had been missing lately with a perfectly placed shot across goal that left Glennon with no chance.

Just as the travelling Town contingent might have dared to think that their team would be gracing the same stage as Wayne Rooney and Neymar were at that moment, it looked to have been snatched away from them again.

Town pushed forward in search of an equaliser, but Dan Gardner’s shot that was saved at the near post was the closest they came before Hayes seemed to have put the result beyond doubt with a superb curling shot from just outside the box into Glennon’s right-hand corner.

But typically, Town didn’t go out without a fight, and a fantastic strike by Gardner from the left side of the box flew into the top corner to give Halifax a flicker of hope with one minute of normal time left.

That flicker looked to have been extinguished for good when Dartford won a penalty immediately afterwards, but Bradbrook crashed it against the bar as the drama continued unabated right up to the whistle.

There was just time for a final Town corner, replete with the obligatory ‘keeper-in-the-box scene as Glennon went forward, but the loose ball was blazed over from inside the box as The Shaymen went out, but went out fighting.

Dartford: Bettinelli, Rose, Champion, Bonner, Hayes, Erskine (Collier 76), Bradbrook, Harris, Noble, Arber, Burns. Subs not used: Wells, Wallis, Rogers, Green.

Shots on target: 5

Shots off target: 3

Corners: 4

Halifax: Glennon, Toulson, McManus, Hogan, Needham, Lowe, Worsley, Marshall (St Juste 65), Gardner, Gregory, Seddon. Subs not used: Senior, Kelly, Abadaki, Worthington.

Shots on target: 4

Shots off target: 6

Corners: 1

Attendance: 805

Man of the match: Dan Gardner