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Team Northumbria 2 Darlington 0
Darlington endured a hugely disappointing day as they lost 2-0 at lowly Team Northumbria, a team that had won only one of their previous 12 matches.
But Quakers suffered their third league defeat, despite seeing more than enough of the ball as for lengthy periods they pinned the hosts back into their own half.
However, against a team that lots 5-1 to Newton Aycliffe last week, they paid the price for failing to take one of numerous chances.
They found a stubborn and well-organised Team Northumbria difficult to break down and as a result Martin Gray’s men failed to score in a league game for the first time.
Furthermore, Darlington lost keeper Craig Turns with a dislocated shoulder and he is expected be missing for at least a month.
He had to be taken to hospital after suffering the injury when making a save towards the end of the first half from Team North’s Peter Watling, who was on the end of a number of chances.
The striker scored well over 30 goals in Division Two last season and was dangerous from the off, having three opportunities early on.
The first shot was deflected over for a corner, the second rolled just wide after turning sharply and the third a header straight at Turns after meeting a cross by right-back John Jury.
Darlington had chances too. David Dowson had a shot saved by Andrew Jennison after referee Tom Rogers played advantage when centre-back Ross Wilkinson brought down Stephen Thompson.
Winger Amar Purewal should’ve done better when he met Thompson’s pass over the top, but the winger’s touch was too heavy and Jennison collected the ball.
Playing on a well-maintained playing surface, the pitch should have been to Quakers’ advantage.
While they did not lose the ball cheaply, they did not use the width of the wide pitch well enough and they lacked invention and spark during a largely flat first 45 minutes.
They were handed an escape on 26 minutes when Watling had only the keeper to beat, but he fired wide from inside penalty area.
Jennison had three saves to make in a matter of minutes. Saving easily when Leon Scott slipped as he shot after receiving a pass from Stephen Thompson, but Dowson wasted a one-on-one opportunity when released by Thompson and outpacing the home defence.
A minute later Jennison saved a header from Thompson after he had met a Craig Gott cross.
Jack Norton replaced Turns for the final seconds of the first half, but within 60 seconds of the restart he was picking the ball out of the net.
After a succession of passes through Darlington’s midfield, Watling was played in by Ben Sayer to fire low past Norton.
The goal means that Quakers have conceded in 13 consecutive league games. A cause for concern, but one which has been overlooked as they have been capable of scoring chances in most games.
Also a hallmark of Darlington’s season, however, is that the majority of their goals have come in the second half matches. So with 44 minutes to play they were not unduly worried at the prospect of conjuring an equaliser and chances were continually created.
Chris Emms saw a shot deflected wide and Thompson had an effort diverted over the bar, while Dowson missed a great opportunity; after Gary Brown headed the ball into his path, the forward’s volley from 12 yards was way off target.
Gray made a double and decisive change, sendinrg on Clark Keltie and Adam Nicholls for Leon Scott and Emms. With Turns already replaced, Quakers had a scare when Norton went down injured after a collision with Watling.
Thankfully for Darlington, he was able to continue and soon made a sharp save low down to his right when Sayer struck the ball sweetly from outside the area.
Darlington’s pressure continued to mount with Keltie at the hub of the action while hard-working Team North defended in numbers with centre-backs Tom Davies and Ross Wilkinson winning almost everything in the air.
For a spell when Quakers won a series of corners, Norton was the only player not in the home team’s third of the pitch, but the lengthy period of possession came to nothing, despte Jennison being continually called into action.
Thompson saw a shot gathered at the second attempt by Jennison before Nicholls broke into the penalty area by beating Phil Lumsden and Tom Davies, but his shot was straight at Jennison and then Thompson had an effort diverted over the bar for a corner by Davies.
Jennings had to be at full stretch to save from Brown while fellow centre-back Joe Tait turned a shot over the bar when meeting a Nicholls corner.
All of the effort proved in vain as Watling added a killer second in injury time. After TN's Mark Bertram intercepted a Norton clearance, they worked the ball to the striker and he slotted home a low strike to make it 2-0.
The goal completed a dreadful day for Darlington on which they also saw second-placed Spennymoor, still with three games in hand, cut the gap to four points.
That could be closed even further on Tuesday when Moors travel to Whitley Bay. Darlington’s next game is at home to Guisborough Town on Friday (8pm ko).
Goals: Watling (46, 1-0), Watling (90, 2-0)
Bookings: Brown (58, foul); Bertram (87, time wasting); Dowson (88, encroachment)
Referee: Tom Rogers
Team Northumbria: Jennison, Jury, Lumsden, Davies, Wilkinson, Bertram, Critchlow (Fenwick 83), Cavener, Sayer, Watling, Riley (Story 88). Subs (not used): Cairns, Sherlock, Clough
Darlington: Turns (Norton 45); Harrison, Tait, Brown, Smith; Emms (Nicholls 54), Gott, Scott (Keltie 54), Amar Purewal; Dowson, Thompson. Subs (not used): Richardson, Reay