FA Trophy Match Report: Dartford 0 Grimsby Town 0
RARELY could a dull, goalless draw have been celebrated with quite as much vigour as on Saturday at Princes Park.
Around 800-900 Mariners fans joined the Town players and staff to enjoy the moment at the final whistle after another trip to Wembley was secured.
And for those who play down the team of 2013's achievements in reaching the final of non-league football's premier cup competition, it must seem a confusing sight.
However, for the majority, the FA Trophy is not just a tin-pot cup or an unwelcome distraction from the real business of winning the Conference title.
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It's a chance to add some silverware to a trophy cabinet that hasn't seen too many additions in recent years.
And, perhaps most importantly, it's an opportunity for Town fans to celebrate something after a decade dominated by one disappointment after the next.
The icing on the cake was the nature of Saturday's display – a thoroughly professional and assured performance from start to finish. And one which saw Tony Burman's hosts run out of ideas completely around the hour mark as their frustration grew and grew.
Joint boss Paul Hurst hinted at changes following the 2-0 defeat at Braintree and the co-managers delivered on that, with three alterations to the starting line-up.
Aswad Thomas, Marcus Marshall and Andy Cook all 'took a rest' on the bench, with Bradley Wood, Jamie Devitt and Richard Brodie stepping in.
Following his sending off in the first leg, Darts midfielder Lee Noble was suspended for the clash, while Mark Arber was missing from the centre of defence due to illness.
The Darts, as expected, came out of the blocks fast. As in the first instalment, Danny Harris made an early impact – he almost latched onto the end of a deep cross and forced the game's first corner.
And the hosts then had the first effort on target, in the seventh minute, as skipper Elliot Bradbrook's powerful header flew straight at the grateful James McKeown.
The home side continued to search for the early goal, forcing more corners and having loud appeals for handball in the box against Sam Hatton turned down.
Town needed to get a foothold in the match, and had their first shot in the 13th minute when Craig Disley tried to repeat his first-leg heroics – but pulled his volley wide from 25 yards.
Lenell John-Lewis headed a Mariners corner a couple of yards wide moments later, before Lee Burns tested McKeown with a dipping effort from the best part of 30 yards.
It was a lively opening 20 minutes, but the Mariners were holding their own – and their 3-0 buffer remained intact.
However, for all that, the hosts should have been ahead in the 25th minute when Harry Crawford's cross-shot across the box was met by Bradbrook and his goal-bound effort was inadvertently blocked by Shaun Pearson five yards out.
It was the best chance so far and Pearson's intervention looked more due to luck than judgement.
The lively John-Lewis flicked another header wide at the other end, as the half-hour mark approached, following an excellent centre from Joe Colbeck.
And it was Town who appeared close to killing the tie off when Colbeck's low cross was fumbled by Marcus Bettinelli and Brodie couldn't quite divert the ball home – although the linesman's flag was already on its way up.
The key was for the Mariners to get through to half-time unscathed and, after an extra two minutes of injury time, the first part of their mission was accomplished.
Town fans were expecting another hectic start to the half and it came – but not at the end they anticipated.
First, Devitt arrowed a shot on target less than a minute in, which Bettinelli did superbly to push around the post for a corner.
Then John-Lewis had the keeper in action again with a low drive from 20 yards, before the same man almost poked home a low cross at the far post after great work by Devitt.
The Darts suddenly remembered they had three goals to find and almost pulled one back in the 55th minute when Crawford's shot was deflected just wide by Ian Miller.
From the ensuing corner, it was pinball in the Town box as the visitors' massed ranks somehow cleared their lines after an almighty scramble in the six-yard box.
The hour mark passed with Town still in the ascendancy overall, and refusing to give the hosts any ounce of encouragement.
In fact, their full-backs were even beginning to push forward, with Hatton's run allowing John-Lewis to turn in the box and fire a piledriver over the bar.
Colbeck then hammered two efforts straight at Bettinelli as the killer blow looked increasingly likely, heading into the final 25 minutes.
Disley was next to have a pop from distance, but his shot skewed well wide before Marshall replaced Devitt for the final 19 minutes.
The winger was involved within seconds, skipping past his marker on the left and crossing for Brodie to head past the post.
Cook was next off the bench, for John-Lewis, and the 75-minute mark sparked the first chorus of "Que sera, sera… we're going to Wembley" from the Mariners fans.
Hannah was the third Town sub, for Brodie – moments after the big centre-forward had been booked following a 'disagreement' with Adam Green.
But the writing was well and truly on the wall for the Darts by then. Although Tom Bonner kept McKeown honest with a 30 yarder in injury time, it would have been scant consolation for the hosts.
The Mariners had finished the job, and deserved the opportunity to celebrate with their supporters as the hosts trudged off the field.
The party promises to be even bigger and better at the home of English football on March 24.
Find out how the action unfolded by replaying our Big Match Live interactive text commentary.