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Quakers recover after a stuttering start at Bishop
Flat Out: Bishop Auckland keeper Peter Jeffries lies on the deck as Darlington's David Dowson reels away in celebration after adding the last of Quakers ' three goals
In some ways Darlington's first steps in the Northern League were akin to a first day at school as they kicked off the season at Bishop Auckland .
Full of apprehension at what lay ahead, they warily began life in their new surroundings, initially looking every inch the shy new boys standing meekly in the corner of the playground. They've moved to a new town full of new faces while Bishops Auckland, in contrast, are clearly seniors around these parts and they had no such problems on their return from the summer break.
Twice striker Sonny Andrews should have put them ahead before Andy Johnson volleyed home in first-half injury time. He'd already missed a penalty too, saved by Jack Norton.
Johnson, scorer of 39 league goals last term, bagged his first of this season when he exploited a gap in a Darlington defence which had also afforded Andrews too much space as timid Quakers refused to let go of the teacher's hand, hoping not to get picked on.
There was even a classroom bully. Buoyed by being 1-0 up, despite being down to ten men, thanks to a red card, at half-time a Bishops fan bellowed at the Darlington players walking down the tunnel "welcome to the Northern League".
That the Darlington players have all previously played in the Northern League might have been lost on the wag, but after a few words of encouragement from manager Martin Gray his team came good in the second half and now they're better for the experience.
First-day nerves perhaps played a part, and Gray, suited and booted for the occasion, said: "The nerves were there and players were a little bit uptight.
"There's no pressure in pre-season, and the style of football that we want, that we played in pre-season, didn't show until the last half-hour.
"A few harsh words were said at half-time, I got my point across and what is really encouraging is that the players responded and took them on board."
Darlington had played too many long balls and with an hour gone Bishops were still 1-0 up, but their lack of numbers began to show.
Bishop defender Chris Renshaw had been sent-off midway through the first half having received two bookings, the first for fouling David Dowson and the second for handball, a harsh decision according to Bishops boss Colin Myers.
"We did really well, but the game hinged on one poor decision and that was the sending off. The kid had his back to the ball and it's hit his arm, so I can't see where the intent is there," he said.
"That killed the game for us because we were always going to run out of steam.
"Last year I was amazed at some of the officials that we got here. I've heard that this might've been the lad's first game at this level, but in a game like that do you put a referee in for his first game?
"I didn't speak to him and I've got no intention of speaking to him because it's gone now."
Gray made three substitutions in the second half and all three contributed to the turnaround. Leon Scott firmed up the centre of midfield while winger Amar Purewal won a free-kick that Bishops failed to clear and when Stephen Harrison crossed, Arjun Purewal headed home.
That was on 64 minutes and soon it was 2-1, Marc Ellison playing in sub Shaun Reay who dinked the ball beyond Peter Jeffries.
The scoring was complete just before the final whistle when Dowson turned Adam McLane inside out before firing past Jeffries with the aid of a slight deflection to ensure Darlington's Northern League life began on the right note. It's not where they want to be and it's their clear aim to ensure it's a one-season visit. But given the turmoil of the last eight months, many are happy to still have a club.
Although now based out of town, the 2,004 attendance in what was an away game for Darlington - three-quarters of which were Quakers fans - demonstrated the level of interest that remains.
The crowd figure was higher than 16 of Darlington's Arena matches last season and those that congregated on the covered terrace were reminded of times gone by, as was Gray.
"The noise they made in the first half was unbelievable. It was like being back at Feethams with the Tin Shed. I just wish we could have given them more to shout about. The more our players get used to this atmosphere the better they'll respond. Hopefully we will build on this because they've experienced it now."