Dartford. Away. Not a bad product of the FA Trophy ball bag. The chance to get re-acquainted with an old foe currently flying high in the southern dandy version of our league, a new stadium to visit and an opportunity to go somewhere lower on the map than Corby. I jumped at the chance.
The journey to the fringes of Kent was relatively painless, despite the mandatory closure of the one Underground line you actually need for engineering works or spring cleaning or something. Still, good to add the Tube to the rich and varied list of transportation used to follow United across the country - might be waiting some time for ferry and plane to that European away, however.
One disappointment was inadvertently getting the train ahead of Pilgrims shipmates Pickwell, Young, Lawson Sr and Johnson the Mackem, who cheekily nipped to Borough Market near London Bridge station and scored complimentary sausage rolls from the Boston Sausage stall by prior arrangement. While they gorged on processed meat and crisp pastry, I was having my ears assaulted by whiney Lahndoner teenagers on the final leg of the journey.
If the eco-warriors from Greenpeace did football stadiums, they’d probably look like Princes Park - an aesthetically pleasing mix of timber and steel, with solar panels powering the plasma screens in the clubhouse and, i’m told, grass on the roof for reasons to which I’ve not yet been enlightened. Personally, I thought it looked like one of those Transport Interchanges you get in the North, albeit with more comfortable seats. And a big bar with ESPN.
Dartford have an excellent chance of promotion to the Conference this season and had been performing well in their timber fortress, attracting crowds of 1,300 or more on a regular basis. For United, there were many billing this game (a game that took place, remember, in the second week of January) as make-or-break for the season. With us languishing in mid-table and having collected just two points from nine to date this calendar year, they thought there was a strong case to be made that defeat here would mean, essentially, the end of the world.
I didn’t share the negativity. I’m wasn’t deluded enough to think we’ll reach Wembley but I’m sick and tired of those endlessly slagging off the players and the management. For the record, my mind hasn’t changed despite the 4-2 defeat. If you expect continuous success season after season, you’re either Manchester United or incredibly foolish.
There were genuine reasons to be cheerful in the re-capture of everyone’s favourite ‘Football Fwiend’ Spencer Weir-Daley whose thumb’s up every time we sung his name was heart-warming on a bitterly cold January afternoon.
There were perhaps 200 United fans in the crowd of 1,166 and we sang relentlessly through an even first-half. There was some vocal backing from the home support at the opposite end but we simply couldn’t hear it above our tongue-in-cheek renditions of: “We’re not going down, we’re not going up/We’re Boston United and we don’t give a f**k...”
We didn’t make the best of starts. The scoreboard read just four minutes when tubby frontman Jacob Erskine back-flicked the opening goal for the Conference South hosts after Lee Canoville was skinned by Danny Harris.
But United gradually gained a foothold and a good, end-to-end cup tie unfolded. When Ian Ross swung a corner in just in front of us, Tom Ward leapt to send the ball goalwards, only to see his certain goal poached by Weir-Daley from two yards. We went ballistic, sprinting down the terrace to salute the returning hero and cranking the volume up another notch. Our best spell of the game followed and we were carrying the greater threat leading in to half-time, but sadly couldn’t capitalise.
The second half was much livelier. Firstly, Dartford’s support moved round to our end, creating a superb sing-off at opposite ends of the terrace but, in contrast to the vocal battle, they took control on the pitch with two quick-fire goals to kill off the contest.
Lee Noble’s cross located Erskine, who had the presence of mind to prod the ball almost in slow motion past Paul Bastock and into the bottom corner. Then, Noble made it 3-1 after some more lackadaisical defending and that was it.
The away fans evoked the spirit of so many defeats of the past and continued singing and bouncing, though the appearance of a dozen Danny Dyer wannabes next to our support might have made some a little reluctant to join in. I assumed they had nothing to do with Dartford, something confirmed nicely when one of the thugs had to ask the steward how to get out of the stand. Someone should have pointed out Millwall against Birmingham was down the road.
Hope flickered briefly when Leon Constantine bravely headed in a second following a great Ward cross, but extinguished when Erskine completed his hat-trick in stoppage time from close range. Alas, further progress in the Trophy wasn’t to be but all those present will vouch for an improved, dogged display which bodes well for the long trawl of league fixtures ahead, and good value for money from the long trip to the south.
Next Match: Finally, my first visit to Elland Road as Leeds take on Ipswich Town.