5:56pm Saturday 22nd March 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Prescot Cables 0 Darlington 0
Darlington have now gone three games without a win after being held to a 0-0 draw today despite intense pressure on the Prescot Cables goal.
They dictated the game, enjoying lengthy spells of possession against a club struggling to avoid relegation, but the Merseysiders were stubborn opposition.
They defended in numbers, especially in the closing stages when Martin Gray’s side had four up front as they pressed for a winning goal in what was a good reaction to the midweek demoralising defeat to Curzon Ashton.
That result means third-placed Quakers are now playing for a place in the play-offs and today they gained a point on second-top Warrington who lost to Northwich, but Lancaster are now three points behind with a game in hand.
It was a frustrating first half for Darlington, though, as they could not force a breakthrough and did not give Prescot keeper enough to do, but new signing Adam Mitchell did not wait long to make a good first impression.
He arrived yesterday after being released from Sunderland and immediately fired over a handful of crosses with Quakers’ game-plan clearly being to play diagonal balls for him to chase up the right wing.
Mitchell is quick and direct and loves to dribble at players, just like Stephen Thompson on the left in what was a 4-4-2 formation which saw Gary Brown moved to central midfield in a reshuffle by Gray.
He dropped David Dowson to the bench while Jordan Robinson is injured with a hamstring strain.
Thompson had Darlington’s first chance, breaking into the penalty area after being played in by Amar Purewal, but the play-maker fired wide of the far post.
Prescot’s first shot at goal saw an Isac Kusaloka effort bounce wide from 18 yards, though Quakers should’ve had a free-kick in the build up when Phil Bannister fouled Brown.
To further frustrate Darlington, within minutes Jonny Davis was harshly booked after tripping Kusaloka.
Nathan Fisher went for the spectacular by volleying at goal from 25 yards after Purewal had flicked on a Terry Galbraith forward pass, but the shot was well off target.
Quakers’ frustrations were summed up when Thompson had strong appeals for a penalty turned down after being handled by Craig Haynes.
Defender Haynes had a new centre-back partner when Lewis Coyle replaced Antony Shinks, who went down injured.
Darlington centre-back Alan White ended the game with his usual booking, this time when he shoved the ball into Phil Howard’s chest just before the defender took a free-kick.
Quakers took a while to get going in the second half, when a goalmouth scramble in the Prescot penalty area ended with Kusaloka goes down injured, though Fisher missed a great chance when he headed wide from a great position after a Terry Galbraith corner, won by Mitchell.
Dowson replaced Fisher, a role reversal from most games, but there was a major let-off for Darlington on 65 minutes.
Phil Howard had only Mark Bell to beat after Alan White misjudged Phil Bannister’s pass from the centre-circle, and although the striker took a touch to steady himself his shot was weak and straight at the goalkeeper.
The second change saw Jonny Davis replaced by Dale Hopson, who was soon dispossessed in the penalty thanks to a fine challenge by Prescott captain Jamie McCulloch. Hopson had been too sluggish in possession after fine a direct run through the middle by Thompson.
Thompson, however, did not enjoy his most effective game and he was guilty of an awful free-kick, which was so high over the bar it was out of the ground.
Gray’s last change saw Steven Johnson come on for Stephen Harrison in the 78th minute, seeing Quakers change to a three-man defence.
They were really pushing and Purewal looked like he was about to score, but a heavy touch saw the ball run through to the keeper after Dowson’s flick.
With five minutes to go it was one-way traffic, though with so many numbers pushing forward Quakers were vulnerable at the back and they almost got caught out.
Striker Phil Howard was allowed time to turn and take a touch in the penalty area after collecting a free-kick, but his shot was narrowly over.
It had been a scare for Darlington, but within seconds Mitchell hit the bar. The effort was probably a cross as it was from a tight angle.
The relentless Darlington pressure concluded at without a goal, though their best chance in the final minute when the Prescot keeper pulled off a brilliant save from Purewal when he headed towards goal from a corner.
Darlington are next in action against Wakefield on Wednesday at Heritage Park.
Bookings: Davis (29, foul), White (45, dissent); McCulloch (49, foul)
Referee: R Holmes
Prescot Cables (4-4-2): Mottram; Cairns, Shinks (Coyle 21), Haynes, Foy; Pinto Vierra, McCulloch, Bannister, Gilroy (Jarrett 82); Kusaloka (McGann 90), Howard. Subs (not used): Dempsey, Lowton
Darlington (4-4-2): Bell; Harrison (Johnson 78), Tait, White, Galbraith; A Mitchell, Brown, Davis (Hopson 71), Thompson; Fisher (Dowson 64), Purewal. Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), Wing
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