Pre-season has manifested more problems than solutions for Dartford in recent times. Last year, in a pre-season fixture against Colchester United, Darts striker Andy Pugh suffered a broken leg that all but ended his season and left managers Jamie Coyle and Adam Flanagan with few options for their forward line going into the start of their first campaign in charge at the club.
This season the attack is of less concern following the signings of Alex Flischer, Luke Wanadio, Darren McQueen and potentially trialist Norman Wabo (although it remains to be seen whether Gillingham step-up their interest in the former Southend United striker) and the return of Pugh himself.
But, in a cruel turn of events, new signing Sam Blackman was to suffer the same fate as Pugh, sustaining a broken leg in the 0-2 friendly defeat to Leyton Orient at Princes Park. Blackman, one of several players signed with the intention of replacing long-term captain Elliot Bradbrook who retired at the end of last season, looked set to play a key role for the Darts this season and was already being likened to club legend Bradbrook.
Not one to shirk a tackle, Blackman’s whole-hearted displays even in fixtures that were supposedly ‘friendly’ saw him make quite the impression in the early stages of his return to Princes Park after playing for the club’s youth sides. Alongside fellow new recruit Luke Allen and club stalwart Lee Noble, Blackman looked to be forming quite the formidable midfield trio for the Darts before suffering the horrific injury.
It now gives a very different outlook to the Darts midfield which now looks a little light in numbers. Noble and Allen will likely be two of the names selected to start in Coyle and Flanagan’s favoured midfield three combination in the Darts’ opening National League south fixture at Wealdstone next Saturday, leaving one place still up for grabs.
In an ideal world, Billy Crook would fill that void. The midfielder, signed from Braintree Town in January, impressed in the few appearances he did make before succumbing to a knee injury which has stalled his progress at Princes Park.
Crook, who alongside Allen were coined the ‘non-league Xavi and (Andreas) Iniesta’ at Braintree, would’ve perfectly supplemented Noble and Allen with his creative spark but the word from the Darts is that they are still looking to manage the 28-year-old to avoid an operation.
It leaves one spot to be filled in the squad and, as is tradition with the Darts in recent times, they may look to their exciting youth talent to make the step up into the senior side. The likes of Jedd Smith and Elliott Leveson have all been afforded first-team chances in pre-season with the first-team but one name that has stood out to Darts fans is 17-year-old midfielder Cameron Brodie.
After an understandably nervous substitute performance in the pre-season game at home to Welling United, Brodie has grown in confidence for the Darts and is beginning to show why he is so highly rated by the first-team management.
‘A combative midfielder who is strong in the tackle, Brodie has shown he has an eye for goal too with a spectacular top corner strike to cap a man-of-the-match display against National League side Bromley’
Whilst he may be diminutive in figure, he more than makes up for it in willingness and has shown that even at his age he isn’t afraid to put his head in where it hurts and challenge some of the more seasoned non-league players in pre-season.
A combative midfielder who is strong in the tackle, Brodie has shown he has an eye for goal too with a spectacular top corner strike to cap a man-of-the-match display against National League side Bromley which has helped stake his claim for a place in the squad for the first league game.
Perhaps it would be too great of a risk for Coyle and Flanagan to throw in the youngster in such a big game with relatively little experience in men’s football but, from what we have seen so far, Brodie has the character to show he can more than hold his own at this level.
It is expected that Coyle and Flanagan may dip back into the market to bolster their midfield before the end of the window but once again the Darts’ conveyor belt of young talent seems to have unearthed a gem.