Northwich Victoria 1 Darlington 1
Darlington paid the price for missing a handful of chances as they lost ground in the title race by drawing 1-1 at Northwich Victoria.
Despite Stephen Thompson give Quakers an early lead with his 20th league goal of the season, they were unable to make the most of opportunities in front of goal and an equaliser at a corner with 12 minutes to go meant Darlington’s winning run away from home came to an end.
They had been looking for an 11th successive league away win to keep the pressure on leaders Curzon Ashton, whose win at Farsley means they are nine points ahead of Darlington with a game in hand.
Quakers meet Curzon on Wednesday at Heritage Park, a must-win game for Darlington who today looked on course for victory when Thompson netted in the sixth minute.
After picking up possession ten yards outside the penalty area, he shrugged off a couple of challenges before unleashing a low shot to beat former Gateshead keeper Tim Deasy.
A big chance was wasted on 24 minutes when Amar Purewal missed a one-on-one. He was played into the penalty area by David Dowson, but thundered his shot against the bar. Thompson gathered the loose ball and passed to Jonny Davis whose shot was off target.
And a two-handed save by Deasy stopped Dowson from scoring. The striker took the ball past centre-back Danny Meadowcraft and unleashed a powerful effort at an angle which Deasy beat away.
With Leon Scott unavailable due to injury, manager Martin Gray had handed a rare start to forward Nathan Fisher and changed formation to 4-4-2.
Fisher was on the right of midfield where he put a shift in for the team, and he flashed a shot wide from 25 yards after a Darlington throw when the ball was worked left to right across the pitch.
Darlington were looking comfortable, untroubled by a team with few ideas going forward.
It was tight at the beginning of the second half with not much between the teams, although each side did go close.
Fisher was inches away from connecting with a header when Terry Galbraith chipped a cross over after reaching the byline, before the hosts broke quickly and after beating the offside trap striker Gary Burnett beat the onrushing Mark Bell to the ball, but the ball rolled wide of the post.
Northwich were better defensively in the second period, carrying a greater shape and Darlington lacked the spark which saw them play so impressively before the break.
Gary Brown, who played despite suffering a groin strain in the warm-up, blocked a shot amid a spell of Northwich pressure, stopping an effort by Marc Joseph outside the penalty area.
The lanky Aboubacar Sanogo came on at right-wing for the hosts and showed some nice touches as Jim Gannon’s side looked for a leveller.
They got it on 78 minutes, making the most of poor Darlington defending at a set-piece with striker Michael Clarke bundling home after Brian Summerskill’s corner was flicked on at near post.
The hosts will feel they deserved the goal having grown into the game Knowing three points were essential, Darlington immediately showed more attacking intent, though it proved to be too little, too late.
Purewal missed another one-on-one. The 16-goal striker shot straight at the keeper after a Thompson pass and then Galbraith played in Fisher, but he lifted his shot over the bar and with it went Darlington’s hopes of victory.
Northwich defender Marc Joseph saw red in the 89th minute, sent off for a lunge on Thompson, and from the resulting free-kick Quakers’ play-maker saw a curling effort deflected off the wall and out of for a corner.
Goals: Thompson (6, 0-1); Clarke (78, 1-1)
Sending-off: Joseph (89, foul)
Referee: M Cunliffe
Northwich Victoria: Deasy, Smalley, Schofield, Joseph, Meadowcraft, Hadfield, Summerskill, Wisdom, Burnett, Clarke, Harries (Sanogo 64). Subs (not used): Greenwood, Henry, Amis
Darlington: Bell, Harrison, Brown, Tait, Galbraith, Robinson, Davis, Thompson, Fisher, Dowson (Hopson 82), Purewal. Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), Wing, Mitchell, Johnson