A late defensive lapse cost Cambridge United as they slipped to a first defeat of the 2012/13 season against a spirited Dartford side.
United had dominated the first half, but fell behind three minutes into the second period when Danny Harris saw his attempted cross loop straight in. The home side pressed for an equaliser, and were rewarded when Sam Smith was fouled in the box, and James Jennings converted the resulting penalty. However, Dartford were back in front two minutes later when Nathan Collier's shot was deflected over debutant keeper Craig Ross.
Ross, who replaced the suspended Jonathan Hedge, was one of four U's changes. Blaine Hudson, Ricky Wellard and Adriano Moke also came into the starting line-up as Jez George shuffled his pack following Saturday's disappointing 2-2 draw at Nuneaton.
And in the first half United played some pleasing stuff, with Moke, Harrison Dunk and Robbie Willmott causing problems with their pace. But unfortunately the pressure didn't yield too many chances, with top-scorer Tom Elliott coming closest, getting a header on target but seeing visiting stopper Marcus Bettinelli touch the ball over the cross-bar.
Dartford rarely threatened, with Elliot Bradbrook's volley the closest they came to a goal, but the visitors were celebrating three minutes into the second period. Harris found space on the left touchline, and saw his centre float past everybody and into the far corner.
George introduced strikers Sam Smith and Liam Hughes as the U's went in search of an equaliser, and Luke Berry thought he'd got it when he guided a header towards the corner but saw Bettinelli pull off a terrific plunging save. Smith then headed the ball over the bar with the goal gaping, and it looked as if the Darts were going to hold on.
But five minutes from time Smith went down in the box under challenge from Arber, and referee Breakspear pointed ot the spot. Up stepped Jennings, and gave the keeper no chance with a powerful effort.
With the home fans still celebrating, Dartford went straight down the other end, and Collier had time and space to measure his shot, which deflected in under the bar and won the match for the visitors.
Man of the Match: Luke Berry - Tried manfully to keep United going despite his usual catalogue of head injuries.
Cambridge United: Ross, McAuley, Jennings, Hudson, Garner (Hughes 70), Willmott, Dunk (Gibson 80), Wellard, Berry, Moke (Smith 56), Elliott. Subs: Coulson, Gibson, Jarvis, Hughes, Smith.
Dartford: Bettinelli, Burns, Rose, Arber, Bonner, Hayes (Collier 69), Harris, Champion, Wallis (Noble 81), Erskine, Bradbrook. Subs: Rogers, Noble, Collier, Crawford, Sutton.
FULL TIME: CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1-2 DARTFORD
16.54: United huffing and puffing here without a great deal of conviction, the away fans are understandably jubilant. Elliott down for treatment, when he gets up I imagine the game will soon be over. We're restarting with a contested drop ball, always nice to see. Dartford win said contest and hoof it forward and now have a free kick for handball by Hughes. There goes the final whistle, Dartford celebrate and United can reflect on a first defeat of the season.
16.51: Four minutes to be added, I wouldn't want to be heading into that home dressing room with Jez George, he looks absolutely furious.
16.48: GOAL CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1-2 DARTFORD. Unbelievable, United switch off from a throw in on the Dartford left, ball worked across to the right, where NATHAN COLLIER is in acres of space. He takes a touch inside, and sees his shot take a deflection and loop over the stranded Ross and in off the bar. Terrible defending from the U's, who were level for little more than two minutes.
16.47: Final Dartford substitution, Crawford replacing Erskine.
16.46: And that's nearly 2-1, wicked cross from Gibson and Smith, sliding in at the far post, directs the ball just wide. Moments later Gibson provides another cracking centre but this time Smith mistimes his jump and the ball spins away. Drama.
16.45: GOAL CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1-1 DARTFORD. It's JAMES JENNINGS to take, and he gives the keeper no chance, smashing it into the corner. United level.
16.44: PENALTY. Ball into the box, Smith tries to win it and is taken down, the referee points to the spot! Bit of a dubious one that, not even sure what that was for.
16.40: This has got "one of those days" written all over it. Willmott does tremendously well to reach the byline and smash in a cross, the keeper gets a hand to it diverting onto Smith's header, but he can only guide his header over with the goal gaping. Lee Noble comes on as Dartford make another change, Wallis replaced.
16.39: Here comes Gibson, in place of Harrison Dunk. Willmott will switch over to the left.
16.36: YELLOW CARD Hughes turns well on the edge of the box but curls his shot just the wrong side of the post. Billy Gibson about to come on as Willmott slides in on Arber, who goes down in a screaming heap. Yellow card for the winger.
16.33: Free kick into the box from Jennings causes mild panic, and is hooked behind. Corner, which Jennings will run all the way across to take. He needn't have bothered as it's headed clear, back it comes and Smith retrieves, finding Willmott, his cross is met by Berry, who guides his header towards the corner but is denied by a fabulous save from Bettinelli, diving low to his right to parry the ball to safety, that looked a goal all the way.
16.28: Dartford making their first change here, Nathan Collier on in place of Ryan Hayes. Liam Hughes about to come on for United, in place of Scott Garner. Bit of a strange one that, United playing a sort of 3-4-3 formation.
16.26: Dunk wins United a corner, bursting past Rose and seeing his centre deflected away by the recovering keeper. Over it comes, Bettinelli flaps but gets just enough on it so that Wellard is off balance as he gets the cross in, and Dartford can breathe again as they clear.
16.24: Elliott rolls a couple of defenders and goes over, free kick to United on the right angle of the box, good play from the striker. Jennings or Willmott to deliver, it's Willmott and it's easily away.
16.21: Good passing from United, that's got the crowd back on their side. Elliott and Smith find McAuley, but his attempted cross is blocked away. The U's work it forward again but Willmott's flighted ball is just too high for Smith and goes out for the goal kick.
16.15: GOAL CAMBRIDGE UNITED 0-1 DARTFORD. A few technical problems here at the R Costings Abbey Stadium, and while we've been away United have made the worst possible start to the second half. Dartford broke down the right through DANNY HARRIS, whose speculative cross towards the far post somehow looped in at the far post to give the visitors the lead. Since the goal United have looked panicky, and Jez George is about to make his first change, Sam Smith coming on in place of Adriano Moke.
HALF-TIME: CAMBRIDGE UNITED 0-0 DARTFORD
15.49: One last chance there as McAuley finds space and launches a cross in. Dunk appeals for a shove in the back but that would've been generous had the ref pointed to the spot. The whistle goes shortly afterwards, and that's half-time, 0-0 at the break.
15.46: Three minutes to be added, been a fairly positive half from United, though they haven't troubled Bettinelli too often. Dartford haven't been overly ambitious, and I'm fairly sure if we remain patient more chances will come along.
15.45: And now Berry returns, fairly sure he's indestructible.
15.42: Berry wanders off again after another robust challenge, that head wound is bleeding and I think he'll need stitches.
15.38: And there's Dartford's best chance, Burns making tracks down the right and pulling the ball back for Erskine, whose powerful volley from the edge of the box flies just over the bar.
15.37: Dunk's pace is causing all sorts of problems. He knocks the ball over a defender's head, sprints round him and fires the ball across the six yard box. Unfortunately no one in an amber shirt is there to take advantage and Dartford can clear.
15.34: Deep cross to the back post is headed behind by McAuley, who was involved in some shirt tugging with Bradbrook. Dartford think they should've had a penalty, difficult to see who was fouling who from my vantage point. Anyway, Dartford's first flag kick is punched behind by Ross, and the second is headed away by McAuley.
15.31: Great skills from Berry, a round-the-world to get away from his man and feed Wellard, who gets it on to Willmott. His cross finds Elliott, who climbs to head goalwards but Bettinelli makes a good stop to leap and parry the ball over. Willmott's corner is cleared, somewhat luckily, by Dartford, but that's the closest United have come.
15.30: YELLOW CARD. Darts skipper Bradbrook gets away with a diving tackle on Berry, but isn't so lucky seconds later when he leaves a foot in as Dunk comes across to clear.
15.26: United have another corner now as Arber's attempted overhead clearance hits himself in the face and goes behind. Jennings initial ball in is cleared, McAuley hoists another cross in, and though the keeper can't get there under pressure from the giant figures of Hudson and Elliott, Dartford manage to scramble the ball clear.
15.25: Jennings goes on the overlap to reach Dunk's pass, but has to settle for winning a corner off the shins of Burns. Willmott's delivery isn't the best and Dartford easily clear.
15.24: Berry returns complete with giant pink head bandage. Dartford's corner is headed clear by McAuley, and the ref gives a free kick anyway.
15.21: Harris wins Dartford their first corner, McAuley having to block the winger's cross. Before it's taken Luke Berry will receive treatment for a head injury. Standard.
15.19: United maintaining pressure well, winning the ball back on several occasions as Dartford try and clear their lines. Elliott does well to ferry the ball on to Willmott, whose cross is cleared. Dunk keeps the ball alive and gets it back to Jennings, but his centre is just too high for Elliott at the back post.
15.16: Good forward run from Harrison Dunk, the referee plays advantage as a raised visiting boot almost catches him in the face. Dunk continues his run but trundles a shot across goal and wide.
15.09: Dartford go forward down their left with Harris, but Jennings heads away and tries to set United on the break with Elliott. The big striker tangles with Arber, and appears to have got the better of the veteran but the referee pulls play back for a Darts free kick. Strange decision that, looked like Elliott was the one being fouled if anyone. Arber seems ok to continue.
15.05: Jennings and Wellard work the ball wide to Dunk, who delivers a teasing cross which is headed behind by Bonner, safety first from the defender. Near post again from Jennings and that's dealt with by the visiting defence.
15.02: Jennings' free kick is low to the near post and bundled behind. Corner is taken short to Willmott, but is half away, Moke finds Willmott again, his cross is headed out to Wellard, who takes a touch but fires wide. United starting on the front foot.
15.01: United get us underway, attacking the South Stand. Should've mentioned earlier that winger Billy Gibson is on the bench, marking his first involvement since his summer move from Yeovil. Immediately Elliott tries to burst down the right and wines a free kick, taken down by the lunging Rose.
14.50: TEAM NEWS. After Saturday's 2-2 draw at Nuneaton, it's no surprise that Jez George has decided to ring the changes. Out go Rossi Jarvis, Josh Coulson, and Tom Shaw, who is dropped from the squad all together, along with suspended goalkeeper Jonathan Hedge. In for his debut between the sticks is Craig Ross, while Blaine Hudson fills in at centre-back. Ricky Wellard will partner Luke Berry in the centre of midfield, with Adriano Moke handed his first start of the season in the hole behind Tom Elliott.
Dartford include Lee Burns, who came off the bench to net the winner against Kidderminster on Saturday, in their starting line-up. No ex-U's in the squad, though veteran centre back Mark Arber used to ply his trade up the road for Peterborough.
14.30: Good afternoon and welcome to the R Costings Abbey Stadium for today's Blue Square Bet Premier clash between Cambridge United and Dartford. The U's will be looking to continue their unbeaten start to the season, while for the visitors it's a chance to put together back-to-back wins.