BY MARK DOIG
With 10 former players in the Dartford matchday 16 it almost felt like a testimonial game of the current Welling United squad versus old boys, but with a more competitive edge to it.
Having gone nearly a month without a game, Steve Lovell was at last able to take on his first match as the Wings manager away to Dartford.
After just one victory in 13 league and cup games, and having gone four games without a goal, Welling had made a change to their team management with Lovell and his assistant Tristan Lewis taking the reins and they were glad to get going at last.
It was a baptism of fire for them with Welling bottom of the National League South visiting league leaders Dartford but, as has been the case so often this season, there was not an obvious gulf between top and bottom. Lovell’s arrival has seen comings and goings in the playing staff which included the return of Anthony Cook (pictured above) who had been released shortly before the end of Brad Quinton’s tenure.
There were first appearances for Kristian Campbell and Darren Oldaker along with the return of Olumide Durojaiye.
There were half chances at either end before Dan Wicks was called on to make a good low save from Lyle Della-Verde. Dipo Akinyemi then headed wide from Della-Verde’s corner.
Seventeen minutes had passed when Welling scored their first goal since December 8. Cook, playing in a more advanced role than previously this season, created the chance when surging forward and finding Della-Verde. He controlled it well and picked his spot rolling it just inside the far post.
Charlie Sheringham might have levelled when being adjudged onside but his low shot was saved well by Reice Charles-Cook.
David Ijaha’s long-range shot was deflected wide but Welling continued to enjoy more of the possession and Cook looked to be about to go on another run before being hauled down cynically by Connor Essam, for which he was cautioned.
Oldaker had a free-kick saved by Wilks then Campbell was unable to guide a header goalwards before Dartford were given a massive let-off. As Cook again looked to burst into the penalty area, a very late challenge by Essam floored him. With everyone expecting the Dartford defender to be shown a second yellow card, the referee showed incredible leniency and gave him a final warning.
Against the run of play, Elliott Romain had a chance for Dartford but Millwall loanee Rob Strachan made a brilliant last-ditch tackle.
Cook caused further problems with a shot that Wilks just managed to bundle around the post but Welling were unable to add a second before the break.
It only took a minute of second-half football for that to change. Unsurprisingly, Essam was replaced at the break and his replacement Josh Hill brought down Cook in the area. Akinyemi took the responsibility and sent Wilks the wrong way from the spot.
Cook might have made it three having got in behind again but his lob didn’t have sufficient elevation and Wilks was able to save.
Jacob Berkeley-Agyepang replaced Jack Jebb and the complexion of the game changed. Within three minutes of his introduction Dartford reduced the arrears. Cook-Charles saved well from Nassim L’Ghoul but it hit Sheringham and fell kindly for Luke Allen to fire home. Then four minutes later, Dartford were level. This time Berkeley-Agyepang was the goalscorer after another good Cook-Charles from Romain’s diving header save had come out favourably for Dartford.
Romain should have completed the comeback but he headed wide from three yards out.
Dartford lost some of their momentum after that and both teams showed signs of fatigue in the latter stages. Rhys Murrell-Williamson had a shot well-saved by Wilks and Ade Shokunbi headed wide as Welling again looked dangerous.
Dartford had the last chance but Romain was stretching and was unable to hit the target with his header.
The Wings are in action again on Tuesday when they host Braintree Town.
PHOTO: KEITH GILLARD
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