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Impressive Darlington held at home
Darlington 0 Grimsby Town 0
Darlington put in a fine performance this afternoon at The Northern Echo Arena against play-off chasing Grimsby Town, but were unable to end their winless run.
The match started with Quakers 30 points and 14 positions behind the Mariners, but on the pitch there was no difference at all as they fought out a 0-0 draw.
Thanks to Stockport’s win over Lincoln City today, Darlington remain 11 points from safety with now 15 to play for.
Craig Liddle’s side, who had three penalty appeals, arguably deserved to win, but instead they were held at home meaning the run since tasting three points stretches to 16 games.
The last time they won, Ian Miller was in the side. He has since joined Grimsby, but illness kept him out of the visitors’ line-up today for a match that began at a brisk pace with each team enjoying plenty of play in the opposition half.
Darlington had two of their penalty appeals during the opening 45 minutes, the first coming after only six minutes when Adam Rundle saw a shot blocked by Shaun Pearson but referee Seb Stockbridge ignored the desperate handball shouts.
Within a minute Quakers were on the attack again with Aaron Brown sending in a thundering low drive that keeper James McKeown could only parry and although Ryan Bowman got to the loose ball, he could not turn it home from a narrow angle.
Within two minutes there was another save, this time at the other end as Jordan Pickford went full stretch to push wide a strike by Rob Duffy.
Pickford went on to enjoy a fine game and he was frequently involved. The 18-year-old, on loan from Sunderland, was quickly out of his area to intercept a forward pass into Liam Hearn’s feet, the keeper belting the ball down the pitch, and within seconds he had punched the ball clear of Hearn’s head when meeting a left-wing cross.
Both teams showed patience with Quakers moving the ball around well in midfield during an entertaining start.
Clark Keltie and Kris Taylor in central midfield, in an unchanged line-up, pulled the strings and the build-up soon led to Brown breaking down the left and he delivered an inviting cross right in front of goal, but it narrowly evaded Drewe Broughton, Bowman and John McReady.
The Mariners also showed themselves to be a side preferring to keep the ball on the ground, but supply to forwards Duffy and Hearn was limited as a compact Darlington were difficult to break down.
When the visitors did catch sight of goal, Pickford was alert.
Grimsby left-winger Peter Winn cut inside Neil Wainwright and fired in a low shot towards the near post that Pickford parried before reacting quickly to Liam Hearn’s follow-up.
Duffy almost handed Darlington the lead on 34 minutes. First he stopped McKeown from collecting a deflected Keltie shot, and then played an awful pass out of the penalty area that Rundle intercepted, but the shot was too close to McKeown.
Scoring chances continued right up until half-time. Pickford saved when Louie Soares cut in from the right, and then Rundle was denied by McKeown.
He played one-twos with both Broughton and Bowman before breaking into the penalty area, but he could not get enough on his effort to seriously test the Grimsby keeper who has been one of their best players this season.
Grimsby right-back Gary Silk got to byline, but Darlington defender Paul Johnson did well to intercept the pull-back intended for Andy Thanoj and before the break there was still time for Quakers’ second penalty shout.
Broughton was bundled over by Garner when competing for a high ball, but Stockbridge was not interested and so it was goalless at the change of ends.
The match continued to see scoring opportunities with Winn firing wire after a swift counter-attack and then Bowman played in Wainwright, but the ball was taken off his feet by Shaun Pearson.
From Taylor’s corner Johnson headed well over the bar before Quakers play-maker John McReady, impressive in the second half, dribbled into the penalty and teed up Broughton who fired a shot from an acute angle that was not far wide of the post.
Grimsby were largely lacklusture and their frustration was demonstrated when they made two substitutions, Anthony Elding and Michael Coulson coming on for the largely anonymous Duffy and Soares.
Midfielder Andy Wright should’ve gone in the book for a late foul on Keltie, but he was almost made to pay for his late lunge from the resulting free-kick when Broughton was inches away from connecting with Taylor’s delivery.
The final penalty shout came midway through the half and was the clearest of the three.
Wright clearly stopped a McReady shot with a hand, but again Stockbridge played on, leaving Darlington to wonder just what needed to happen for them to be awarded a spot-kick today.
Unperturbed, McReady was a real livewire after the break and soon after Wright handled his shot the teenager burst forward and his and next effort at goal was diverted to Rundle who screwed over the bar.
The play had primarily seen Quakers on the attack during the second half, but Grimsby began to make inroads with Hearn finding space to run at the home defence.
The 27-goal marksman got away down the right, bypassed Haydn Hollins and Brown before Johnson stopped him in his tracks with a fine tackle.
Taylor clipped the top of the crossbar, leaving the midfielder still looking for his first goal for the club, after McReady;s run was brought to a sudden halt by Pearson’s high challenge.
And then came an eye-catching save by McKeown.
Bowman worked his way into the penalty area, chose not to play in McReady and instead fired in an effort from 14 yards that looked a goal all the way until McKeown saved magnificently, leaping to his left to claw away the ball.
Quakers, roared on by the home support, continued to push an came close to goal again.
This time Bowman played a ball across goal, after receiving a pass in-field by Rundle, but it evaded both Broughton and McReady.
Rundle had received the ball thanks to a pin-point cross-field pass by Keltie who had taken three players out of the game with some nifty footwork in the middle.
Johnson enjoyed a fine game, perhaps his best since joined on loan from Hartlepool last month, and he nicked ball off Hearn as he tried to take possession of a Coulson knock-down.
After paying a pivotal role in approach play, McReady saw a shot blocked by Pearson after a Taylor corner before Grimsby made a last-ditch effort to snatch a winner.
At a corner Pearson won a header that bounced up off a Darlington defender and into Pickford’s hands before a Hearn effort looped over after Johnson flung himself at the shot to get in a vital block.
Hearn shot well wide when Wainwright closed him down outside the penalty area before Grimsby’s dangerman cut in from the left and unleashed a shot that Pickford pushed the ball over.
A goal would have been harsh on Darlington who merited at least a point from a game which was more entertaining than many at the Arena this season, despite the lack of goals.
The next game is at Lincoln City on Easter Monday while Liddle’s side are at home next Saturday too, against bottom-of-the-table Bath City.
Bookings: Johnson (51, foul)
Referee: Seb Stockbridge
Attendance: 2,212 (436 visiting fans)
Darlington (4-4-2): Pickford; Wainwright, Hollis, Johnson, Brown; McReady, Keltie, Taylor, Rundle (Lambert 77); Broughton, Bowman. Subs (not used): Nixon (gk), Ferguson, Barton
Grimsby Town (4-4-2): McKeown; Silk, Garner, Pearson, Townsend; Soares (Coulson 54), Thanoj, Wright, Winn (Artus 67); Hearn, Duffy (Elding 54). Subs (not used): I’Anson, Hughes-Mason