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Warrington rolls back years to deny Quakers
You can't put a price on experience is an oft-used phrase in football. Darlington on Saturday, however, were able to value it at the cost of a place in the next round of the FA Trophy.
They will at least be in today's draw for the second qualifying round, but that they face a replay on Wednesday against Buxton, having drawn 1-1 on Saturday, is down to the performances of two old stagers.
Although 38, Buxton centre-back Tim Ryan was as fiercely competitive as he was when Dave Penney made him one of his first Darlington signings in 2006-07, while goalkeeper Andy Warrington looked every inch a player with 500 Football League appearances behind him.
With a full head of grey hair, he appears much older than 37, but he denied an in-form Darlington by making one save after another during a display that belied his veteran status, capped by stopping an injury-time penalty.
Stephen Thompson was the man he denied, diving to his left to keep out the 93rd-minute spot-kick that would have seen Darlington deservedly win a thrilling tie, as well as the £2,700 prize money.
Instead, the sides meet again at Heritage Park this week and if Quakers can repeat Saturday's showing they will surely beat Buxton at the second attempt.
As in their previous two matches - a draw with Prescot Cables and a defeat at Curzon Ashton - Darlington's problem wasn't creating opportunities, it was failing to take them.
But manager Martin Gray said: "Let's not get drawn into talking about missed chances all the time, you only create that many chances by doing things right.
"Andy Warrington was man of the match. He's an ex-Football League keeper who's played something like 500 games and you've got to give him credit.
"How many saves did he make? It says something when the keeper is their best player. So you can talk about chances, but the performance was the important thing and we had so many chances to score because we played so well."
Warrington saved from Thompson twice before the break while the keeper also parried efforts from Jonny Davis and Curtis Edwards during a 45 minutes Quakers dominated, despite playing uphill. The 9-1 corner count said as much.
Not only did Darlington outplay a side seventh in the division above them, they did so in difficult circumstances.
Losing one player in the warm-up is unfortunate and losing two almost unheard of, yet that's what Gray had to deal with because Chris Moore felt unwell and then Amar Purewal suffered a recurrence of a groin strain.
That meant recalls for midfielder Davis and striker Steven Johnson, which in turn necessitated five positional changes.
"We just got on with it and that just shows you the character of the squad," explained Gray. "Not every team would've coped in that situation, but we told the players not to use it as an excuse.
"It caused me a problem at quarter to three! Going in to see the referee once to change the team was bad enough, but then I had to do it again.
"But that's management. Situations are thrown at you and you've got to deal with it and make decisions. I had to change the team twice as well as all the set-pieces and had only ten minutes to do that."
The second half was more balanced, as demonstrated by the teams scoring a goal each.
On the hour, Thompson notched his seventh of the season, and the cracking strike was his fourth from outside the penalty area.
Receiving the ball from Edwards with his back to goal, using his strength Thompson shrugged off a couple of challenges before blasting the ball into the net in trademark fashion. Not even Warrington could save that one.
But within ten minutes Buxton hit back.
Right-back Grant Black blasted the ball across the penalty area where Matt Thornhill instinctively got his head to it and diverted it into the top corner.
Gray added: "My goalkeeper wasn't tested today. It was a freak cross that could've gone anywhere, their lad got his head to it and it went in the top corner, but it could've gone anywhere."
Hoping to avoid a replay, Darlington piled on the pressure, with David Dowson hitting the post and Thompson just off target with a free-kick, and then came the decisive moment in injury time.
Thompson collected Edwards' pass and was tripped by Jamie Green, giving him the chance to win the game.
Even better than Warrington's penalty save was his swift response to the follow-up, saving from Dowson.
Having seen Thompson score eight of the 11 penalties he's taken for Quakers, Gray defended his player.
He said: "He's been fantastic today as our right-winger. He won the penalty, he's full of confidence and I don't care who's taking it if they're full of confidence.
"So you can't point the finger at him because he's been nothing but great for us.
"It was a last-minute penalty, a pressure penalty and what was pleasing to see was that Dowson followed it in and Buxton didn't. We got there first but their keeper saved the shot again."
*Darlington play a friendly this evening in Bishop Auckland to help a school launch a brand new football facility.
The first-team squad will be in attendance at the King James I Academy while a youthful XI will take on the sixth-form school's side.
Kick-off is 7pm, entry is free, though all donations will go towards raising funds for Scope.
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