DARLINGTON were left to rue not taking their chances to score as they were held at home by Spennymoor Town in last night’s top of the table clash.
The game was much-anticipated and drew an attendance of 1,832 – Darlington’s highest of the season – and most were pleased by Quakers’ performance as they came close to ending Spennymoor’s unbeaten run.
Manager Martin Gray was proud of his team, but frustrated at his team’s failings in front of goal.
Amar Purewal and Stephen Thompson were both guilty of spurning opportunities during an entertaining and competitive match, after which Spennymoor boss Jason Ainsley said his team was not at its best.
Gray said: “We were playing against the team that have won the league for the past three seasons and we’ve controlled the match and had chances to score but not taken them.
“Amar was one-on-one and Thompson could’ve scored too. We had a few half chances too, but those two were great chances that we didn’t take.
“But our first half performance was really strong and I felt we controlled the game the longer it went on. I don’t think it was a fair result because we had three great chances.
“I was proud of my players tonight, proud of every one of them. Their work ethic was good and they got on the ball and were brave.”
Amid steady rain, Spennymoor made a lively start with livewire striker Gavin Cogdon twice breaking into Quakers’ penalty area. Outstretched legs from Gary Brown and Joe Tait cut out Cogdon’s final pass.
With his close control and stocky build, he could be compared to Darlington’s Stephen Thompson who had his team’s first effort, which was deflected into side-netting for a corner as Quakers gradually came into the contest.
They looked the more likely to make a breakthrough, but Purewal wasted a great chance.
Played in by strike-partner David Dowson on the halfway line, Purewal dribbled into the area, but hesitated and allowed keeper Robert Dean to claw the ball away and the follow-up shot was wide.
Soon the pair reversed roles, Purewal nodding to Dowson, and his run at goal resulted in Dean saving as Darlington ended the first half on top.
A powerful shot by Thompson nicked off a defender and went over, but referee Michael Dicicco, bewilderingly, said goal kick before another long-range effort followed, this time with Chris Emms having a pop, but it went over.
Spennymoor were celebrating before half-time, but their joy was short-lived thanks to striker Mark Davison.
Cogdon’s shot appeared to be going in, but Davison’s touch on the line was offside.
Darlington continued where they left off after the break.
Terry Galbraith dinked a ball into the penalty area, but Purewal failed to make a clear contact as he wafted a leg at the ball, before an Emms delivery to the near post was unconvincingly palmed away by Dean, and Purewal almost got his head to it.
The wet conditions were superb for defenders who love a sliding tackle, Brown being one such example. He executed a fine challenge as Cogdon looked for an opening, but it was Quakers who looked more threatening.
For the bulk of the second half Spennymoor did not show much going forward, but they always looked capable of creating an opportunity and they had three efforts in quick succession.
Two were off target by midfielder Keith Graydon while Michael Rae tested Mark Bell who was equal to the effort, one of the few the keeper had to save.
Jonny Davis made his Darlington debut after coming off the bench and the midfielder’s first contribution was to take a free-kick that bounced between a clutch of bodies before Purewal, enduring a poor night, aimlessly swiped at the ball and missed his chance to be a hero.
The draw means Ainsley’s team remain seven points behind Quakers, but with five games in hand.
“I don’t think you’ve seen the real Spennymoor tonight,” he said. “The defenders outshone the attackers.
“We started off really brightly, but then Darlington had a good spell and I think they shaded the game if I’m honest.
“We still looked a threat though. Both teams got the ball into good areas and we looked like we had a goal in us.
“If you’d told me before the game that it was going to be a draw I’d have been happy with a point, but that wasn’t we came here for.”
Bookings: Amar Purewal (10, handball), Brown (84, foul); Laws (90, foul)
Referee: Matthew Dicicco
DARLINGTON (4-4-2): Bell 7; Harrison 6, BROWN 8, Tait 7, Scott 7; Emms 6 (Thomas 71), Galbraith 7, Gott 7 (Davis 81), Thompson 6; Dowson 7, Amar Purewal 5. Subs (not used): Porter (gk), Arjun Purewal, Nicholls
SPENNYMOOR TOWN (4-4-2): Dean 6; Griffiths 6, Laws 7, Mason 7, Capper 7; C Moore 6 (Ruddy 52, 5), D MOORE 7, Graydon 7, Peacock 6 (Phillips 83); Davison 5 (Rae 62, 6), Cogdon 6. Subs (not used): Richardson, Stephenson
MAN OF THE MATCH GARY Brown – Commanding performance from the centre-back