In front of the lowest crowd for a league game at The Northern Echo Darlington Arena, Jordan Cook, Nathan Porritt and Rikki Bains all made their bows.
But Calvin Zola rammed home a loose ball in the 87th minute to leave Quakers stunned and pointless after three matches.
The attendance of 1,821, including 173 from Crewe, comfortably beat the stadium’s previous low of 2,180. It was the club’s lowest league gate since a match at Feethams 11 years ago.
But the few that did attend appeared set to see Quakers collect a deserved first point of the campaign.
But Zola popped up after Darlington were unable to sufficiently clear a Billy Jones corner, meaning Colin Todd’s side have now lost all three home games by a solitary goal.
But the performance was an improvement on the weekend defeat to Bury.
“I feel sorry for the players because we matched Crewe, who I think will be near the top at the end of the season, but we lacked that little bit of quality in the final third,”
said Todd rested captain Steve Foster and replaced him with Matt Plummer while Chris Lumsdon and Jeff Smith were dropped.
“We had tempo and we had energy but we are lacking in the final third.
“It’s a cruel game. I’m not saying we deserved to win, but I feel we deserved something from the game.
“I threw Porritt and Cook in and they haven’t trained with us yet so it was never going to be easy, but I think everybody came out of the game with credit.”
Todd last night revealed he expects to sign former Carlisle forward Kevin Gall in time to make his debut at Port Vale on Saturday.
But it was Cook who made a surprise debut last night after joining on loan from Sunderland yesterday.
Cook and Porritt were Quakers’ widemen, but in a tentative first half neither side appeared capable of creating chances and it took Todd’s side until the 30th minute to cause Crewe problems.
Railwaymen defender Harry Worley almost put through his own net when cutting out a David Dowson pass into the danger area.
Porritt flashed a shot over and Gary Smith pulled an effort well wide as half chances began to come, but the visitors ended the period on top.
Following good work by the impressive Joel Grant, Aman Verma’s venomous rising drive from distance brought a good save from David Knight.
But soon after the keeper charged out of his penalty, clattered into Plummer just as the defender cleared.
At the break Bains came on at right-back for Paul Arnison who limped off with a hamstring strain.
Arnison had been captain the so the armband was passed to Ian Miller and he began as skipper by executing a superbly-timed tackle in the penalty area on Byron Moore.
By that stage Darlington striker Lee Thorpe had twice attempted powerful attempts at goal, the first saved by keeper Dave Button, but neither came as close to opening the scoring as Zola’s 25-yard
It whacked off Quakers’ woodwork and back into play, and Darlington were able to clear.
Porritt saw an effort from a narrow angle roll wide and Gary Smith lashed wide during a productive period.
But just as a point appeared likely, with just three minutes to go Zola lashed past Knight to steal all three points.
Goal: Zola (0-1, 87)
Booking: Bower (foul, 19)
Referee: Jock Waugh (Sheffield) 7
DARLINGTON (4-4-2): Knight 6; Arnison 6 (Bains 46, 6), PLUMMER 7, Miller 7, Bower 6; Cook 6 (J Smith 58), Chandler 7, G Smith 6, Porritt 6; Dowson 6 (Main 71), Thorpe 6. Subs (not
used): Liversedge (gk), Bennett, Lumsdon, Windass
CREWE ALEXANDRA (4-3-3): Button 6; Brayford 6, Mitchell-King 6, Worley 7, Jones 7; Ada 5, Schumacher 7, Verma 5; Moore 5 (Elding 79), Zola 7, GRANT 7 (Donaldson 71). Subs (not
used): Legdzins, Miller, Murphy, Westwood, Davis
MAN OF THE MATCH
MATT Plummer – did not look out of place as Foster’s replacement