In the first of this new series ‘Oak Man’s Eye on the Darts’, we take a look at three players who could have a big role to play for the Darts this season.

Mark Smith

Mark Smith
New boy Mark Smith hopes to bring his leadership qualities to the backline | @OfficialShots

One position of little consistency in recent times at Princes Park has been goalkeeper. Last season, after the sudden departure of Deren Ibrahim to pursue a coaching opportunity with Charlton Athletic, Jamie Coyle and Adam Flanagan reached out to young Bailey Vose to take the gloves.

Few could have many complaints about the job the 21-year-old Colchester United loanee did for the side, either, as he produced a number of big saves at crucial moments. However, there was always a question mark, partly due to his age, over whether he was vocal enough with his defence and commanded his area well enough.

That prompted Coyle and Flanagan to look elsewhere ahead of this campaign, culminating in the signing of Mark Smith. Youth is clearly the way the management are looking but Smith, 23, has league experience beyond his years.

After a spell with Eastbourne Borough at the start of last season, Smith finished the campaign with promotion hopefuls Billericay Town, putting in a number of impressive performances against his new club which undoubtedly led to the Darts keeping tabs on the former Brentford ‘keeper.

It’s clear, too, that Smith is looking to bring an attribute Vose perhaps lacked when speaking to KentOnline following his arrival. He told them, “I pride myself on my communication, talking my team-mates through the game, being loud and being a presence.

“It’s something me and the manager spoke about and that’s a big reason why he was interested in me because I can provide that leadership from the back.”

Luke Wanadio

Dartford FC v Truro City FC. Vanarama National League South
Luke Wanadio (centre) during his first spell with the club | Non-League Paper

Another new signing but this time a more familiar face as Luke Wanadio returns to Princes Park following a two year spell away. The tricky winger proved a hit in his first spell with 13 goals and numerous assists enough to earn him a move up the footballing pyramid to National League Bromley and later Aldershot.

Capable of running at defences with pace and a wicked final delivery, the 26-year-old provides much needed reinforcments in the wide areas for the Darts and he believes a succesful partnership with Darren McQueen could cause big problems for opposition defences.

Speaking to KentOnline, he said, “I think Macca (McQueen) is a big signing because he will score goals. If me and Macca can link up like how me and Duane (Ofori-Acheampong) did when I was here, you’re looking at 20 goals between us.

“I just need to enjoy my football again and you’ll see the benefits,” he added. “The goals will come, the assists will come and hopefully we’ll go up.”

It always felt like the Darts lacked raw pace in the wide areas to stretch opposition defences last season but now with speedsters Wanadio and McQueen both with a point to prove to stake their claim for a return to the National League, the Darts are looking in good stead on the attacking front.

Andy Pugh

pugh
A fully-fit Andy Pugh is key for Dartford’s success | Gary Browne

There were many moments from last season that you could look at and say ‘that’s when the promotion push ended’. Whilst it may have not ‘ended’ at this moment, it certainly took a massive hit in the pre-season fixture against Colchester United in July 2018.

An innocuous collision that day changed the course of not only Andy Pugh’s season but Dartford’s as the talisman suffered a double leg break in the friendly at Princes Park. The former Gillingham striker faced a nine month lay-off, only returning in late stages of the 2018-19 season.

Heading into his sixth full season with the club, his value to the team, despite the injury, has not dwindled and provides Coyle and Flanagan with food-for-thought over who leads the line with McQueen, Alex Flischer and Charlie Sheringham also available.

Dartford’s attack looked one dimensional last season and missed Pugh’s willingness to run in behind and play on the last man. It’s no coincidence that their best run of form last season came when Phil Roberts, a man who shares similar traits with Pugh, hit top form before going awol, which seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the promotion push.

Pugh’s 46 goals for the club has seen him become a a fans favourite at Princes Park and with a full pre-season under his belt, he could be a big player for the Darts if they are to finish anywhere near the promotion places.

Who do you think has a big role to play for the Darts this season? Who will step up and attempt to fill the departing Elliot Bradbrook’s shoes? Let me know on Twitter, @HenryWAClark, or in the comments! 

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