West Auckland Town 2 Darlington 1
A 96th minute penalty by John Campbell snatched the points at the end of a dramatic match that saw chances galore, two penalties and a red card as West Auckland came from behind to defeat Darlington today.
Top-of-table Darlington went into the game having lost only once in 18 games and with a seven-point lead over Spennymoor Town.
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But that lead was cut to four points thanks to Moors’ win at Marske combined with Campbell’s late, late goal against his former club.
He calmly rolled the ball home after Dan Smith had shoved over Jonathan Gibson, conceding the second penalty of an entertaining fixture.
After Darren Richardson was dismissed early in the second half, Darlington took the lead from the spot through Stephen Thompson on 63 minutes, but both teams had spurned several good chances well before then with Quakers particularly profligate before the break.
It was an end-to-end first half that Darlington shaded, creating two good chances inside the first quarter of an hour.
Former West Auckland winger Adam Nicholls volleyed wide from close-range while Thompson shaved the outside of the post before the hosts missed a gilt-edged chance of their own.
A poor kick by Quakers keeper Craig Turns was intercepted by Campbell, but he hit the side-netting when he looked likely to score.
The chances continued to come at either end. Darlington hit the post again with a David Dowson header following a Craig Gott corner, and then Turns made two smart saves, first from Gardner and then Stuart Banks.
Joe Tait, up field after a corner, was off target at close range as he met a Gott delivery and in first half injury time Campbell was wide with a an effort that rolled across goal West broke on the counter-attack.
Although the match had featured a glut of chances, there had been a lack of edge between the sides, which was surprising given the pre-match build-up.
West doubling ticket prices angered Darlington fans who stayed away in numbers. The attendance of 502 was only a third of what could have expected for a game that had been eagerly awaited.
It might have been light on tension in the first half, but it became a grudge match after the break when Richardson deservedly saw red for a two-footed lunge.
The left-back, known for his full-blooded challenges, went in hard on Banks who laid prone for several minutes and required treatment, but was able to continue.
Quakers boss Martin Gray immediately sent on left-back Smith, for winger Nicholls, for the final 30 pulsating minutes in which either side could have won while tough challenge became commonplace.
One such tackle saw West centre-back Daryll Hall foul Leon Scott in the penalty area, however the centre-back appeared to cleanly take the ball. The penalty may have been unjustly awarded, but Thompson broke the deadlock from the spot.
West protested their innocence as they believed Hall had Scott had not been touched by Hall, but referee Mr K Lawson had shown leniency as he chose not to issue a red card despite Scott being through on goal.
At 1-0 up but down to ten men, Darlington knew they were in for a fight.
Turns did well to save a Campbell free-kick that dipped just underneath the crossbar, and the keeper was then equal to a long-range effort by Phil Gray.
The left-back joined West in midweek after leaving Quakers and, along with Campbell and Adam Rundle was one of three former Darlington players in the line-up.
They were celebrating an equaliser on 75 minutes after Quakers failed to clear a corner. West had men unmarked and the ball pinged around the penalty area before Banks shot home across goal.
While West did not make a substitution, Gray made a number of tactical changes as he sought to see out the game.
Although he would surely have been satisfied with a point, ten-man Darlington continued to attack in during exciting closing stages when the pace never dipped.
Chris Emms was sent on for Adam Clough, which saw midfielder Gott move to right-back, and the winger tried a spectacular volley that was high over Mark Bell’s goal.
Bell had not had many saves to make during the second half, but he pulled off a cracker from Emms in the 90th minute, diving low to his left to keep a vicious drive.
Within 60 seconds Thompson was off target with a volley in what the fourth official indicated would be four minutes of added time, presumably awarded due to the delay when Banks was injured after Richardson’s red card.
Both teams had given a good account of themselves in a competitive game, so a draw would have been fair, but Mr Lawson pointed to the spot for a second time, this time in Quakers' penalty area.
Smith was adjudged to have pushed Gibson and that allowed West to snatch it with Campbell keeping his cool to stroke the ball home, sparking jubilant scenes among the home fans.
Gray had no qualms with the penalty area, nor did he with Richardson’s red, though he was disappointed that Mr Lawson did not show Hall a red while the amount of injury time played was also an issue.
His team are next in action on Wednesday in the League Cup at home to Spennymoor Town, though he will field a weakened team, while West are at Ryton and Crawcook Albion on the same night.
Goals: Thompson pen (63, 0-1); Banks (75, 1-1), Campbell (90, 2-1)
Bookings: Pattison (62, dissent), Gibson (90, foul)
Sending off: Richardson (56, foul)
Referee: K Lawson
West Auckland (4-4-2): Bell; Pattinson, Hall, Paxton, Gray; Banks, Gardner, Gibson, Rundle; Moffat, Campbell. Subs (not used): Garthwaite, Mullin, Hindmarch, Coad, Hubbard.
Darlington (4-4-2): Turns, Clough (Emms 70); Brown, Tait, Richardson; Nicholls (Smith 58), Scott, Gott, Amar Purewal (Keltie 60); Dowson, Thompson. Subs (not used): Norton (gk), Reay