Conference Premier Division
Tuesday, 4th September 2012
Newport County will travel to Dartford for the first time in 14 years on Tuesday evening as they seek an immediate return to winning ways. The only time the sides have previously met was during the single season the Exiles spent in the Southern League Southern division. Having suffered relegation from the Southern League Premier the season before, in what is still the club’s only relegation since reforming, Newport finished in a comfortable 7th position, 11 points ahead of 11th placed Dartford. At the end of the season, Newport were then switched back into their regular Tier 7 home of the Southern Midland Division.
|January 31, 1998||Newport County||3||1||Dartford||608|
|April 18, 1998||Dartford||2||4||Newport County||250|
The two encounters between the clubs that season were both won by the home sides with utility player Danny Hill, who only scored four times during the whole league campaign, netting in both fixtures for Newport and thus being the current top scorer against Dartford. The attendance for the game at Spytty Park was only 608 and, given that the attendance for the game at Dartford was a mere 250 as opposed to the 1,145 who saw the 5-1 demolition of Alfreton Town at Princes Park on Saturday, it is pretty much guaranteed that Tuesday evening will see the highest recorded attendance between these two sides since Newport reformed. The venue for the game is also different, as the 4-2 home victory for Dartford took place at the East London side’s then temporary home of Ship Lane.
Like Newport County, Dartford have come a long way since the two sides last met in the Southern League Southern Division. Whilst County left that division by moving sideways into the Southern League Midland Division, Dartford were moving around Essex, playing in both Thurrock and Gravesend before they were finally able to build a new ground in Dartford, which opened during the 2006-07 season. During this period, the number of ground moves was more significant than any progress Dartford were making up the football pyramid. Indeed, the start of the 2005-06 season represented Dartford’s 70th season of football in the Southern League, more than any other club. It was only after their return home that the club began to take significant steps towards the top flight of English non league football for the first time since 1986.
The year after they moved into Princes Park, Dartford were promoted to the Isthmian League Premier Division and two years later in 2009-10 they also won that league and were thus promoted to the Conference South just as Newport were leaving it for the Conference Premier Division. The club then finished a highly creditable 10th place in their first season of Conference football, especially given that they were in the relegation zone in December, drawing the highest attendance of the season (2,781) in that division for their game against local rivals Ebbsfleet United. Although the highlight of the season was a 4-0 home victory over Dover, there were also some heavy reverses as Dartford sought for consistency, with both Dorchester and Hampton & Richmond helping themselves to four goal victories at Princes Park.
Dartford learnt the lessons from that first season and significantly improved last season, bagging an impressive 89 goals in collecting 88 points. Whilst this was not quite enough to finish above Woking, it was sufficient to leave Dartford in 2nd place, some 7 points clear of third placed Welling United and some 17 points clear of play off semi final opponents Basingstoke Town. Justice was eventually done as Dartford proceeded to win all three of their play off matches to gain promotion to the Conference Premier. Given their meteoric rise in recent seasons, propelled by the goals of Bradbrook, Erskine and Harris, the former two of whom scored against Alfreton last Saturday, few would bet against Dartford doing well in the Conference Premier.
|11-Aug-12||4-3 (A) v Mansfield Town||2-3 (H) v Tamworth|
|14-Aug-12||4-0 (H) v Nuneaton Town||0-1 (A) v Woking|
|18-Aug-12||2-1 (H) v Lincoln City||0-2 (A) v Macclesfield Town|
|25-Aug-12||2-1 (A) v Braintree Town||1-0 (H) v Kidderminster Harriers|
|27/28-Aug-12||2-0 (H) v Hereford United||2-1 (A) v Cambridge United|
|1-Sep-12||0-2 (A) v Wrexham||5-1 (H) v Alfreton Town|
Whilst Newport had been sweeping all before them until the trip to the Racecourse Ground at the weekend, Dartford have already experienced a season of contrasts. Despite their fantastic form in the Conference South last season, the Essex side initially found adjusting to the higher level a challenge. The first two games of the season, at home to a Tamworth side who had been in free fall at the end of last season and away at Conference South champions Woking, appeared to yield the possibility of early points. However, despite playing well and netting twice against Tamworth, ‘three mistakes’ in the words of manager Tony Burman cost them the points.
This was then followed by a 1-0 defeat to Woking after Giuseppe Sole scored an 82nd minute penalty, leaving outside observers to start fearing the worst for Dartford. However, once again there were mitigating circumstances, as Dartford had to play for 55 minutes with only 10 men after Lee Noble had been sent off, an incident that even victorious Woking manager Garry Hill recognised as being pivotal to the result. The anticipated defeat at Macclesfield the following Saturday thus left Dartford without any points from their first three games but since then Tony Burman has rapidly turned things around.
Their first victory came in what had already become a crucial match at Princes Park against Kidderminister, given that both sides had lost all three matches prior to that encounter, with substitute Lee Burns, who had only been on the field for 11 minutes after replacing the injured Adam Green, heading home a 36th minute winner. The confidence gained from this result was then taken into Dartford’s next game, where they recorded an impressive 2-1 victory at Cambridge.
After disposing of Alfreton 5-1 on Saturday, courtesy of a hat-trick from Harry Crawford, Dartford have now won three consecutive games and are comfortably placed in 12th position in the league table. Far from being fearful of league leaders Newport County, they will view this as another opportunity to demonstrate their credentials at Conference Premier level. Consequently, the Exiles will need to exert their authority on the game in a way that they failed to do at the Racecourse Ground. Failure to do so could mean the end of their stint at the top of the table.
|Conference Premier Top Half||Pl||GD||Pts|
|2||Forest Green Rovers||6||6||14|
Post Wrexham Statistical Observations
The defeat at Wrexham on Saturday was the 8th time in 13 attempts that Newport County failed to get progress beyond a five game winning streak and means that the South Walians have now failed to score at the Racecourse Ground in three attempts. Indeed, County have only collected a total of two points from five games against Wrexham at an average of 0.4 points per game, which is the worst return County have against any side in the Conference Premier this season. The table below shows the closest challengers:
PPG = Points Per Game
County have not only failed to gain maximum points against Wrexham in five attempts, but they have also failed to score against the Dragons in their last four encounters. Indeed, the only player who has managed to find the net for Newport in this fixture is the recently departed Darryl Knights, who scored in the first meeting between the two sides back in September 2010. The table below shows Newport worst goals per game ratio against the teams currently in the Conference Premier, with Wrexham once again proving to be the most problematic side for the Exiles:
GPG = Goals Per Game
A more positive statistic concerns the way Newport bounced back the last time that a five match winning streak came to an end in October 2010 with a 2-0 reverse in front of 3,246 at Grimsby Town. The following three games yielded a total of seven points as County followed up a disappointing 3-3 home draw with Eastbourne by thrashing York City 4-0, with two goals apiece from Sam Foley and Craig Reid, and beating champions elect Crawley Town 3-2 on their own ground, with Craig Reid also scoring in that game.
Twelve months prior to this particular sequence, the Exiles had gone on another five game winning streak in the Conference South, a run that was brought to an end with a 1-1 draw against Weymouth despite yet another Craig Reid goal. On that occasion, County went on to win all of their next three matches 1-0 (against Woking, Bath City and St. Albans City). Furthermore, they went on to record six match and seven match winning streaks later in the same season in amassing 103 points.
Overall therefore, statistics support the notion that Newport County will bounce back on Tuesday evening against Dartford. However, the form and confidence of the home side will make this a particularly tricky encounter and the old adage that the first goal is crucial is perhaps particularly apt here, as the confidence of the team that scores it will grow immeasurably. However, I suspect that the game will end in a draw, especially if the reports that the impressive Danny Crow’s injury is fairly serious prove to be true.
Dartford 2 Newport County 2
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