National League South: Wealdstone 4 Dartford 1
- Credit: Archant
Wealdstone eased past Dartford in their opening fixture of the National League South season at The Vale.
A brace from striker Ross Lafayette, alongside a second-half bullet header from defender Connor Stevens, and an own goal by Ben Greenhalgh, ensured Wealdstone eventually ran out comfortable winners; with attacker Josh Hill netting for the Darts.
The Stones started the game in imposing fashion, generating a goalscoring opportunity within the second minute of play.
Lafayette latched onto a long ball and demonstrated strong hold-up play, eventually laying off to the tireless Nick Arnold, who whipped in a fantastic teasing first-time cross. Sanchez Watt was well positioned at the back post, but his effort flew just wide of the target.
In the ninth minute, Wealdstone were rewarded for being on the front foot, as midfielder Danny Green produced one of his trademark switches to dangerous left back Michee Efete.
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Efete then surged brilliantly into the Dartford box, drawing a foul from Darts' defender Jordan Wynter, prompting referee Robert Massey-Ellis to award a penalty. Lafayette made no mistake from the spot, coolly despatching past Dartford goalkeeper Mark Smith, for the Stones to assume an early lead.
As the Stones continued to dominate proceedings, Green and Watt both produced goalbound efforts in the 11th minute but two excellent goalline clearances from the Darts defence prevented Wealdstone from extending their lead.
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Six minutes later, Watt prompted a fine save from Smith, as an incisive through ball from Lafayette set him free in the box, but Smith illustrated solid footwork to thwart the effort.
Against the run of play, Dartford came tantalisingly close to levelling in the 32nd minute, as Greenhalgh struck a stunning free-kick from the edge-of-the-box, which thundered off of the crossbar.
A minute later, the Stones turned defence into attack, as Green played in Arnold, who squared to Billy Clifford, but his first time shot was accidentally blocked by Lafayette.
As the first half drew to a close, the Darts began to create a few more attacking opportunities, as they started to enjoy a greater amount of possession.
And on the stroke of half-time, Dartford were able to draw level, as Hill powerfully headed home Ryan Hayes' corner past Wealdstone's loanee goalkeeper, Aston Oxborough.
After the break, the Stones were agonisingly close to seizing the lead in the 50th minute as a superb spell of cohesive build-up play, inspired by the dynamic Clifford, resulted in Watt striking a wonderful left-footed strike from just inside the area, but Smith was equal to the effort.
As the second half progressed, the match started to become more open, with end-to-end action, as Dartford began to work their way back into the game.
New signing Oxborough produced an important save in the 55th minute to keep the scores level, after the ball had fallen to Amos Nasha, who struck a vicious effort from inside the box which prompted a point-blank save from Oxborough.
The Darts continued to galvanise more chances, going close again through Hayes and Adam Cunnington in the 68th minute, but a superbly timed last-ditch tackle from Efete, along with a brilliant block from defensive stalwart Connor Stevens, preserved the scores.
The Stones finally regained the lead in the 76th minute, as super sub Lewis cut inside from the left wing to deliver a low driven cross, which was diverted into the net by Greenhalgh for an own goal.
Wealdstone extended their lead in the 81st minute, as the commanding Stevens rose highest from Green's corner, to rocket a header past Smith into the top corner.
And in the 87th minute, the Stones cemented their victory in style as the in-form Lafayette completed his first brace of the season.
Tireless full-back Arnold, who had been impressive throughout, started the move with a great slide tackle before advancing down the right wing to drive in a pinpoint cross to Lafayette. The striker produced a nifty turn, before he clinically slotted home past Smith.