PREVIEW: Luton Town v Dartford

Dartford are suffering from a bad case of second season syndrome at the start of the Skrill Premier campaign, writes Mike Simmonds.

Last term, in their first campaign back in the Conference since 1985, the Darts finished a mightily impressive eighth, just one point and one place below Luton.

This time round, Tony Burman’s side have started the campaign in worrying form with five defeats from their eight games already.

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They triumphed on the opening day of the season, beating Alfreton 1-0, before three successive defeats, where they didn’t register a goal.

Tamworth were then beaten 2-0 on Bank Holiday Monday, before Burman’s side lost at home to Lincoln, drew 0-0 at Chester and were beaten at home by Nuneaton.

With five goals to their name all season, they are the lowest scorers in the league alongside Luton, Macclesfield and Chester.

Burman took the unusual step of criticising his players after Saturday’s loss to Nuneaton, as he said: “At 2-1, I think we’re still in the game. In the second half we did OK - I can’t say we deserved to win it - but you’ve got to cross the line and get hurt sometimes.

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“Most of my teams do that but unfortunately, the boys didn’t have the desire to get the result.”

After such a fine season last year, it was inevitable that some of the top clubs would come sniffing round Dartford’s talented squad and they did so.

Top scorer Harry Crawford was snapped up by Barnet, while imposing centre half Tom Bonner joined Cambridge, as did Tom Champion.

Adam Green, Louis Wells and Richard Rose moved on too, while defender Mark Arber joined Arsenal as part of the academy coaching staff.

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In their place came the likes of Alan Julian, Tom Welham, Jason Prior, Kenny Clark, Mat Mitchell-King, Max Cornhill and Alex Woodyard, while last month, Burnam also snapped up ex-Ilkeston defender Josh Hill, who previously had spells at Worksop & Ilkeston.

Team news: Hatters are still without Anthony Charles (shoulder), Danny Fitzsimons (knee) and Jon Shaw (hernia).

Alex Wall is suspended following his dismissal against Wrexham, while there are doubts over Alex Lacey (ankle).

Darford boss Tony Burman may well make changes to his side after the defeat on Saturday, with Max Cornhill (groin) and Mat Mitchell-King (knee) both hoping to feature after failing late fitness tests on Saturday.

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Tyrone Sterling could come back too, while striker Jason Prior may well be involved from the start alongside Adam Birchall.

Top Skrill scorer - Hatters: Luke Guttridge (2). Darts: Elliott Bradbrook (2).

Man in the middle: Rob Whitton - has shown 11 yellows in his five games so far along with two reds in his opening day clash between Cambridge and Halifax.

Last season he brandished his yellow card 75 times, while also sending off four players in his 25 games.

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Took Luton four times at home, with Hatters winning twice (4-1 against Macclsefield and 3-0 win over Lincoln), plus drawing 1-1 with Nuneaton in the FA Cup and then losing 2-1 to Hyde.

Whitton also officiated Town’s 5-2 hammering at Newport County taking his record while reffing Luton to six wins, one draw and two defeats.

In charge: A Tony Burman. A true Dartford legend, having played over 300 games for the club.

The 54-year-old was appointed coach in 1992/93 and then manager in 1993/94, before resigning in 1996 due to business commitments.

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Returned as caretaker boss in 2001 and quickly appointed the club’s new manager.

Since then has led Darts to promotion from Ryman One North, Ryman Premier and Blue Square South into the Conference.

View from the opposition: Boss Tony Burman after Saturday’s defeat to Nuneaton - “In the second half, we huffed and puffed but you’ve got to have that desire to make things happen.

“We might have played some pretty football and passed it about but some of them, in my opinion, didn’t have the desire to make things happen in the second half.

“That’s what’s disappointed me.

“I don’t say it too easily. We had a good chat in there.”

Average home crowd: Luton: 6,596. Dartford: 1,189.

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One to watch: Adam Birchall - 28-year-old striker, who began his career at Arsenal.

Never made an appearance for the Gunners though and had spells at Wycombe and Mansfield before loaned to Barnet.

Moved to Conference South side Dover Athletic in July 2009, where he enjoyed a prolific spell, breaking the club’s and division’s goalscoring record, with 45 goals in 49 appearances.

Then joined Gillingham, but missed the entire 2011–12 season due to injury and after being put on the transfer list by the Gills, signed a long-term loan deal at Princes Park in the summer.

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Friendly faces: Town boss John Still was in charge at Dartford, as he took over in 1983, where he won the Southern League title before returning to Leytonstone & Ilford in 1986.

Meanwhile, Hatters winger David Martin was at Dartford earlier his his career.

After scoring 14 goals in 68 appearances, he attracted the attention of then Championship club Crystal Palace, who he joined for £25,000 in January 2007.

Last time out: Luton suffered a hugely disappointing 2-0 defeat during Dartford’s first and only other visit to Kenilworth Road last season.

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Lee Noble put the visitors ahead on six minutes before Tom Bonner notched the second just before the break.

Hatters: Dean Brill, Jake Howells, Simon Ainge, Ronnie Henry, Alex Lawless (Dan Walker 61), Arnaud Mendy, JJ O’Donnell, Jonathan Smith, Scott Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood, Andre Gray.

Subs not used: Mark Tyler, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Janos Kovacs, Adam Watkins.

Attendance: 6,567.

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