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Tempers boil over after Darlington’s bore draw
That the biggest talking point of Saturday's game came after the final whistle says it all about a mediocre match lacking any redeeming features.
What will not be forgotten in a hurry, however, will be the unsavoury incident which occurred after the 0-0 draw as the teams headed toward the Lancaster City changing rooms when a small group of dissatisfied Darlington fans made their feelings known.
Quakers' Curtis Edwards was seemingly the target of their ire in a flashpoint that allegedly included the teenage midfielder being spat at and ended with Martin Gray conducting an on-pitch rollicking.
The irate manager sought to deliver a swift rebuke to a Darlington supporter he believed was involved in abusing Edwards and, while stunned stewards stood nearby, amid much finger jabbing gave the fan what might be best described as a piece of his mind.
Darlington are asking for witnesses to help ascertain the facts, though a furious Gray already has a view.
He raged: "The players put a lot of effort in today, so to come off the pitch and be verbally abused and spat on by someone who calls himself a Darlington fan is nothing short of disgusting.
"Where's the sense in crucifying your own player and, I'm led to believe, spitting in his face. If that's the case and it's proven then that person should be disciplined.
"If it was the other way around, if it was a player that had done it, he'd be hauled over the coals."
Abuse for players who have 'only' drawn with fellow promotion contenders who are undefeated at home, is peculiar and, thankfully, most fans had a more level-headed reaction.
The drab nature of Darlington's display, though, was undeniable.
Using a 4-4-1-1 formation, they were unable to break down a resilient Lancaster defence well-drilled by manager Darren Peacock, the former Newcastle United centre-back, and as a result Quakers have now gone five league and cup games without win.
And seemingly, some have made 19-year-old Edwards the scapegoat.
Gray added: "If you were walking down the street, they'd never do it, so what gives people the right on a match day to abuse players when all they've done is work their hardest for their club?
"These players love playing for this club, so how can be people be frustrated with them after putting in a hardworking performance?"
The incident was a remarkable turn of events at odds with 90 dull minutes that ended, ironically, with the game's only moment of controversy.
An erroneous decision by the officials stopped Stephen Thompson just as he was about to shoot, with a linesman claiming Quakers' forward had committed a foul on left-back Ryan Elderton.
The gaffe meant Darlington completed the game without giving goalkeeper Mike Hale a shot to save.
They lacked creativity during a tight match, though the hosts did have a few glimpses of goal which were dealt with by debutant Darlington goalkeeper Peter Jameson.
Playing due to Mark Bell's calf injury, the former Consett keeper overcame some early nerves, most notably spilling a harmless effort by Gary Hunter, to put in a strong performance that saw him deal with anything Lancaster could muster.
"We had a young lad in goal who grew in confidence," said Gray. "He started quite nervously as you'd understand because it was the biggest game of his career, but by the end his kicking was good and he was catching everything."
Making his second Darlington debut was Nathan Thomas, an attacker released from Sunderland who had a short spell with Quakers last season.
He started on the left before switching with Thompson up front, though, as per his team-mates, his impact was limited in the final third, where the absence of the injured Amar Purewal was clear.
With an off-target Thompson effort Quakers' only shot in the first 45 minutes, their best second-half chance saw Leon Scott scuff a shot to Edwards and his attempt at goal on the turn was blocked by centre-back Neil Marshall.
It was in defence that Darlington did their best work. Having conceded eight goals in their previous five games combined, including three in the midweek FA Trophy capitulation to Buxton, Gray placed huge significance on a stubborn rearguard.
A clumsy challenge by the otherwise solid Chris Hunter on Ryan Winder in the penalty area was cause for concern, but the referee played on.
Lancaster's Hunter screwed a volley horribly wide at the end of a counter attack, while Jameson gathered at the second attempt after winger Ryan Winder shot from a narrow angle.
"Both teams had a few half chances, but what was important was that we came away from the game with something," said Gray. "We had to defend well.
"The message to the players was to not concede. Lancaster are a good team, they're organised and they're unbeaten at home, so I'm sure they'll be challenging at the end of the season.
"I'm delighted to come away with a point."
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