DARLINGTON were dethroned as they lost their top of the table encounter at Curzon Ashton tonight.
Their downfall was due to a familiar story: The failure to take chances.
While their performance was impressive, especially given they were playing a fellow promotion challenger, for the second time in three days they missed too many good opportunities.
David Dowson twice missed one-on-one opportunities, Amar Purewal was off-target with a header and Chris Moore twice hit the woodwork.
Whereas they managed to draw 2-2 with Prescot Cables at the weekend, tonight they slipped to a third defeat of the season against a side who remain unbeaten and are now top, two points clear with three games in hand on Quakers.
Manager Martin Gray said: “Bearing in mind we played on Saturday, I was very pleased the performance and we edged it overall. They had spells at times, which you would expect because they’re a good team.
“But we took the game to them. They scored off a set-piece which dropped nicely for the lad. We had three or four chances, Dowson had two, Chrissy Moore hit the post, they were great chances, not half chances.
“In big games you’ve got to take your chances, but we didn’t. It’s about being clinical.”
Unsurprisingly, given that it was a meeting of the division’s top two teams, it was a competitive game, one that Darlington enjoyed the better of and created more of the openings at the Tameside Stadium.
Early on the sides traded chances with Moore clipping the top of the crossbar and Curzon’s Matthew Warburton was off-target with an overhead kick following a free-kick conceded deep inside Darlington’s half by Stephen Thompson for a foul on Simon Woodford.
Thompson, identified by Curzon as Darlington’s danger man, was clearly furious that Woodford had twice been allowed to lunge in on him without punishment.
As with all of Darlington’s attacking players, Purewal received a rough ride from the hostile home defence and he took a blow to the head when trying to put Quakers ahead, leaping with goalkeeper Hakan Burton.
A free-kick from Terry Galbraith brought a save out of Burton who reacted smartly to a deflection, but Curzon should have taken the lead on 36 minutes.
After Curtis Edwards conceded a foul, the ball was pumped forward and Warburton took control, back-heeling the ball to Sam Walker, but he smashed his effort wide.
It was a major chance missed, and then Darlington did likewise with Dowson at fault.
Thompson released him and the striker charged into the penalty area, but screwed his shot wide of the far post, leaving players and fans stunned.
Purewal and Moore both blasted high over the bar as Quakers increased their grip on the game, but goalkeeper Mark Bell was scrambling across goal when Chris Young dragged a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area during a strong start to the second-half for the hosts.
Quakers weathered the storm and from two corners of their own came close to scoring. Both were taken by the Moore, the first seeing Chris Hunter’s header tipped over by Burton, the second ending in a close-range effort by Jordan Robinson that was cleared off the line.
Robinson played as Alan White was unavailable due to work commitments, but it was the home defence doing all the work for a spell in the second half. Dowson again missed a one-on-one, allowing Burton to tip an effort around the post.
Moore was inches away from scoring after a Thompson pass, but he hit the outside of the post and soon the hosts fought back and made Darlington pay the price for being profligate, scoring at a corner just as Prescot Cables did on Saturday.
Bell saved Jonathan Hunt’s header at point-blank range, but when the ball was not cleared Woodford blasted the ball home.
“We won the first header, but it dropped to their man and that can happen,” said Gray.
“I was delighted with the performance, I really was, but what’s important is what you do in both boxes.”
After the goal the hosts shut up shop while Darlington lost their shape dramatically and could have conceded more, particularly when Curzon countered quickly after Pilatos’ attempt at a quick free-kick backfired and Chris Rowney tried to catch Bell off his line.
Goal: Woodford (72, 1-0) Bookings: J Robinson (24, foul), Scott (40, foul); Young (60, foul), McDonagh (84, foul)
Referee: Gavin Hock (Wakefield) 5
Curzon Ashton (4-4-2): Burton 7; Woodford 6, Hunt 6, A WATSON 8, Minor 8; Rowney 7, Walker 6, Young 7, R Watson 6 (Horrocks 85); Warburton 7 (Brooke 88), McDonagh 6. Subs (not used): Bett, Haughton, Wright
Darlington (4-4-2): Bell 7; Pilatos 6, J Robinson 6, Hunter 7, Galbraith 7; Moore 7, EDWARDS 8, Scott 6 (Davis 65), Thompson 7; Dowson 6 (S Johnson 64, 6), Purewal 6 (P Robinson 78). Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), O’Connor
Man of the match: ANDY Watson – Minimised the impact of Darlington’s strikers.