Darlington 1 Burscough 2
With Wednesday’s play-off semi-final against Rambottom United in mind, promotion-chasing Darlington fielded a weakened team and lost 2-1 at home to Burscough.
Few of today’s starting XI will play in midweek, and the outcome was a lacklustre performance during a drab game that rarely entertained.
The mid-table visitors took the lead with an early penalty, awarded after 78 seconds when Quakers keeper Peter Jameson collided with Jordan Williams.
There were concerns for Jameson, who required lengthy treatment after the incident and was put into the recovery position by team-mate Jack Walker.
After five minutes during which a concerned Martin Gray ran to the penalty area to check on the keeper’s condition, Jameson was able to continue, but he was unable to stop Mark Beesley’s spot-kick.
The goal stunned Darlington, who took a while to get into their stride at a subdued Heritage Park, where there was a healthy attendance of 1,215.
They were given a helping hand, however, when Burscough’s Mike Brown was sent off by referee Helen Conley for a senseless two-footed lunge on left-back Aiden O’Connor.
The teenager from Spennymoor was making his first senior appearance, while centre-midfielder Adam Cocks made his first league start.
Finally Darlington got into gear, though flag-happy assistant referee Mr Gilbraith made a number of incorrect decisions which frustrated Quakers’ attack.
Before the break though, there was a second penalty and Dale Hopson converted it after Phil Quirk pulled Ian Ward’s shirt.
However, the second period was something of a none-event, a typical end of season affair. Neither side seemed capable of showing much endeavour, with an under-strength Darlington saving themselves for Wednesday.
Manager Martin Gray made three changes, withdrawing Gary Brown, Nathan Fisher and O’Connor, replacing them with Steven Johnson and two more youth team players in Matty Lovegreen and Tom Young.
Both acquitted themselves very well in defence, Lovegreen heading away several balls and left-back Young getting up the line.
Burscough got the winner on 71 minutes came in unusual circumstances as Williams’ left-wing cross rebounded into play off a post and with Quakers failing to clear, Beesley picked the ball up in an offside position and fired home.
This time Gilbraith kept his flag down, the goal stood and Burscough held on to win.
The result brought an end to Darlington’s six-game winning run, though of more concern to Gray was an injury to Hopson, who hobbled off in the closing stages.
The match was following by a trophy presentation staged by Evo-Stik League officials, who gave Quakers in recognition of finishing as runners-up.
As the second-placed team, Darlington will play Ramsbottom on Wednesday and Warrington host Bamber Bridge on Tuesday.
Goals: Beesley pen (6, 0-1); Hopson pen (31, 1-1); Beesley (71, 1-2)
Bookings: A Brown (41, foul); Ward (68, foul)
Sending-off: M Brown (23, violent conduct)
Referee: Helen Conley (Ferryhill)
Darlington: Jameson, Walker, White, Brown (Lovegreen), O’Connor (Young), Hopson, Cocks, Robinson, A Mitchell; Ward, Fisher (Johnson 54). Subs (not used): Bell (gk), D Mitchell
Burscough: Horn, Camozzi, Quirk, P Williams, Brown, Brookfield, Pegler (Smith 90), Connolly, J Williams, Beesley (Laird 82), Brown. Subs (not used): none