The management team had been careful to play down Kingstonian’s chances of an upset against Blue Square Premier Dartford on Saturday.
But the 4-0 scoreline only tells half the story of an FA Trophy first round tie that turned on two early regrets for the men in hoops: first, a missed penalty from Andre McCollin and then a first-half red card for Simon Huckle.
The game was just three minutes old when midfielder Matt Pattison was fairly challenged in the box.
The referee immediately pointed to the spot, much to the Ks fans’ delight and bemusement. But the home side failed to take advantage of Robert Whitton’s generosity, McCollin tamely striking the ball straight at Marcus Bettinelli.
“If they’re going to cause an upset those penalties have to go in. We’ve been caught a little bit but I think we’ve come back into the game,” said a relieved Dartford boss Tony Burman.
The two-league difference between the teams was not always apparent as Ks continued to hold their own in front of a healthy crowd at Kingsmeadow, 200 Darts fans having made the trip from Kent.
The biggest cheer from the stands came when a squirrel launched a pitch invasion midway through the first-half, dodging players for a full minute before escaping into the Athletics End.
But the laughter turned to anguish soon after when Jacob Erskine proved just as evasive, darting into the box to flick a fine finish past Rob Tolfrey.
And the home side’s chances were all but ended by the sending-off of midfielder Simon Huckle on the half-hour for a rash challenge.
Still, it remained just 1-0 at the break and Wade Small had a superb chance to equalise for the 10 men after half-time, taking a Tom Hutchinson flick on into the box and hitting the ball low from eight yards out only to see Bettinelli make a fine save.
Two minutes later, Dartford made Ks pay with a second goal through Elliot Bradbrook.
Then Danny Harris made it three and as the rain poured down Ks had to focus on damage limitation.
In the end, the Darts made it 4-0 through substitute Nathan Collier and Ks’ best Trophy run in 5 years was at an end.
Kingstonian return to league action at Canvey Island next Saturday.