8:00am Monday 23rd April 2012
By Craig Stoddart
Forest Green Rovers 2 Darlington 0
The season might be over this coming weekend, but Darlington might have been tempted to call it quits by half time at The New Lawn.
The image of Craig Liddle turning away from the pitch on Saturday with a hand clamped firmly across his eyes summed up Quakers' sense of desperation and helplessness.
Yet again his team had been handed a blow due to an incident largely out of their control, leaving them battling against the odds as they have been for most of this campaign.
It came five minutes before the break on Saturday at Forest Green Rovers when striker Drewe Broughton was incorrectly sent off thanks to Eddie Oshodi performing his best Didier Drogba impersonation.
Rolling around on the floor one minute - Broughton used excessive force in an off the ball collision, explained referee John Hopkins - the next he was back in action and clearly unaffected.
Having been sent off twice while with Alfreton earlier this season, Broughton's reputation must have worked against him, which was a huge shame as his dismissal came just after he had been narrowly off target with a long-range effort when Darlington were in the ascendancy.
They were seeking to equalise Forest Green's fourth-minute opener, a cracking long range strike by Kieron Forbes as the Gloucestershire hosts took advantage of Quakers' heavy legs.
Having made the five-hour coach journey on Saturday morning, Quakers were understandably sluggish to begin with.
Less than 20 minutes prior to Broughton's departure, the club's only other striker, Ryan Bowman, was stretchered off with concussion after coming off second best in a collision with Chris Stokes.
Down to ten men, without a striker on the pitch and without a win in their previous 19 matches, only the most optimistic of Darlington followers were hopeful.
So it was no surprise when the hosts added a second midway through the second half. James Norwood beat Paul Arnison for pace up the wing, put Paul Johnson on his backside and crossed for Yan Klukowski to turn home from close range.
There was no way back at that stage, Darlington doing little to test their former keeper Sam Russell who joined Rovers in January.
The defeat condemned Quakers to a 20th successive league game without a win - a new club record.
Mitigating circumstances? Absolutely.
"We've been battling against rules and regulations, administrations, no money, a transfer embargo and injuries so we've had a lot stacked against us," said interim manager Craig Liddle.
"I'm very saddened that I've been manager for this record, and I expect the players will feel the same, but if it wasn't me it would be someone else.
"The easy thing to do would've been to walk away 12 weeks ago and let somebody else have a go, but I've not got that type of character.
"There wasn't the money available to bring in another manager, so I was prepared to take it on the chin and battle on.
"It will stick with me for the rest of my life that I've been manager for this record, but I'll deal with that the best that I can."
As for Oshodi, Liddle was as frank in his assessment as he could be without using the more direct language of the angry 87 Darlington supporters who made the trip and were close to the incident.
Liddle said: "It was ridiculous. I'm not going to criticise him because that goes on in this day and age, but I'd be a bit embarrassed if I'd gone down in them circumstances. Each to their own.
"It starts to trickle down because people see it on the television. It's disappointing and I'm not going to criticise the referee because I thought he was equal for both sides - equally good or equally poor, you decide.
"It's disappointing in this day and age for a player to be going down and rolling around when he's been pushed in the back. The same thing happened to Paul Johnson in the second half but nothing was given.
"He sent Drewe off for whatever reason. He's got a bit of a reputation and it's gone against him."
Broughton will miss the final match of the season at home to Kettering, though Bowman should be available after being released from hospital on Saturday after having a precautionary x-ray.
The previous 19-game record was set under Dave Booth's management in 1988-89, another season that ended in relegation.
That was when Darlingon dropped into the Conference first time around, a relegation that was the precursor to back-to-back title wins under the management of Brian Little.
It is clearly hoped that the current crisis will prove to be the platform for another resurgence.
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