A YEAR ago today it felt like the end for Darlington Football Club. In reality it was only the beginning.
There were tears on the terraces at Barrow as 1,000 Darlington supporters watched what felt like the club’s final game as administration had been announced days earlier.
Twelve months on much has changed, but the club lives on, re-energised and in good shape at the top of the Ebac Northern League as they begin their journey back up the leagues.
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They marked the one-year anniversary of that memorable occasion at Holker Street by winning 3-0 at South Shields – the same scoreline as at Barrow.
Whereas Darlington were defeated in Cumbria, on Saturday Martin Gray’s side strolled to victory.
They were rampant as chances galore were created against a side bottom of the table and out of their depth against a Darlington team that wasted an opportunity to record their biggest win of the season.
Gray said: “If I’m greedy we could’ve been more clinical in front of goal.
“We could’ve scored five or six goals no problem. Their keeper made one or two great saves to keep it at 1-0.
“We can’t continue to create as many chances as we have done today and only win 3-0.
Someone sooner or later is going to get a real good thumping.”
But any disappointment felt at missing out on boosting their goal tally was wiped away by the news that Spennymoor Town had dropped points for only the fourth time this season.
Moors, now nine points adrift but with five games in hand, being held at home by Bedlington Terriers was a surprise, but there was no shock value in Quakers’ win.
South Shields have now lost 14 of their last 15 league games, their latest defeat on the cards from the moment Gary Brown scrambled home.
After Joe Tait fired toward goal from Terry Galbraith’s corner on 11 minutes, the captain got the last touch to score his second goal of the season.
Among those pleased to see Quakers take the lead was one of Brown’s predecessors, Jamie Chandler. The former Darlington player, whose last appearance was at Holker Street, turned up to show his support for a club with which he maintains a strong bond.
He attended because Gateshead’s match had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, although the International Stadium surface cannot have been much worse than Filtrona Park’s.
In an attempt to protect the playing surface, both teams used a piece of grass behind one of the goals to warm up, but the pitch soon churned up. Claggy and soft enough to sink ankle deep into, it must have been like playing on peanut butter.
“You just had to plough through it,” said Gray. “But we still got the ball down and passed it.
“You tell the players to play the conditions, but you can’t help footballers being footballers.
“They want to get the ball down and pass it, so that’s what they did.
“I was delighted with the way we passed the ball and controlled the game. It was a great performance on what was a really difficult pitch.”
Quakers carved through a weak defence with Stephen Thompson, Amar Purewal and Stephen Harrison all denied by keeper James Winter, although a Tait slip allowed Stephen Ramsey a shooting chance that the Darlington defender atoned for by getting a block in.
Mark Bell has now kept three clean sheets in four games with Saturday’s earned thanks primarily to a strong display from his defence, while he also saved well to deny Steven Graham at the end of the first half.
The keeper had little to do after the break, while at the other end Darlington should have enjoyed a goal glut.
Purewal headed off target from a corner, Brown headed over from a Galbraith delivery then Adam Nicholls blazed over after being teed up by Purewal.
But two goals inside five minutes midway through the half sealed victory.
Purewal celebrated his new contract by tapping home his 15th goal of the season after Winter had parried a Thompson shot, then centre-back Tait showed a striker’s composure to neatly slot home following a carefully-weighted Jonny Davis ball over the top.
Quakers coasted through the closing stages and had even more chances to score.
David Dowson twice blasted over while substitute Michael Sweet turned the ball in from close range, but was offside.
That it was one year on since Barrow had not escaped Gray’s attention.
“There’s been some hard times at this club and it’s great to see everyone going home happy. It’s about time they had something to smile about,” he said.
“I’m delighted with the backing because it gives the the players a buzz when they see that kind of reception.”