DARLINGTON were on the verge of a valuable victory against a relegation rival, but a moment of madness meant they only drew 1-1 with their game at Alfreton ending in acrimony.

Leading 1-0 in the 88th minute after a solid display in Derbyshire, James Talbot became engaged in altercation with Alfreton’s Tom Allan.

Referee Dean Watson deemed the young ’keeper to have committed an off-the-ball red-card offence.

Loading article content

While replays were unclear, it is understood Talbot landed a blow on Allan immediately after punching clear a cross, earning a red card for violent conduct and with no goalkeeper on the bench Gary Brown donned the gloves for the final stages of a game in which Quakers has put in a good away performance.

The defender was unable to save the resultant penalty, Alfreton’s Brendon Daniels cancelling out Reece Styche’s opening goal, which had looked like securing Quakers’ a first away win since the opening day of the season.

Styche scored during a hectic start to the contest, the first ten seconds seeing Terry Galbraith flattened by Alfreton striker Chris Sharp, who was booked after Quakers’ left-back had treatment.

And by the third minute Darlington were thankful to Talbot for still being ahead, a point-blank save denying Alfreton’s Ryan Jennings.

There was soon a goal, however, and it was one Styche greatly enjoyed.

He took advantage of Alfreton's James Baxendale slipping, Styche then advancing and finishing superbly.

Following Wednesday’s penalty nightmare, when he had a spot-kick saved against Salford City, the Darlington striker clearly relished this moment, running towards the travelling fans, who numbered 257, at the other end of the ground to celebrate.

Daniels saw curling free-kick saved by Talbot, but in the early stages Darlington looked a threat. Goalkeeper Chris Elliott was booked after fouling Styche outside the penalty area, after the resulting free-kick both Leon Scott and Josh Gillies had shots blocked.

Pierce Bird became the third Alfreton player booked, this time after going through danger man Styche.

Although Darlington were a goal up, they had to soak up pressure as Alfreton ended the half stronger.

A mistake by Phil Turnbull was not capitlised on by Daniels, whose pullback from the byline was cut out by Tom Portas, Darlington’s only change, filling in at right-back for Dom Collins with Quakers starting in a 4-4-2 formation.

Darlington rarely broke into the final third as the half wore on, although a Turnbull ball down the channel to Greg Mills almost resulted in a goal, Mills’ low ball across was deflected into the goalkeeper’s hands by defender David Shiels.

The Derbyshire side caused problems for a period. Jennings struck the ball cleanly from distance, his effort just dipping over the bar, Talbot blocked from Sharp amid a goalmouth scramble, and Quakers’ goalkeeper then did well to claim a high ball when challenged by the physical Sharp.

Alfreton forced another chance at the beginning of the second half, Euan Mulhern shooting across goal when well-positioned after Darlington’s defence failed to deal with a simple high ball down the middle.

It was a moment that displeased Quakers assistant manager Alan White, who was quick to offer the benefit of his experience to the team.

Kicking up the slope, Darlington had to be patient in waiting for scoring opportunities, which were scarce in the early stages of the second half.

They went close, however, when Gary Brown’s long throw was deflected by an Alfreton player and out for a corner, rolling not far wide of the post, and from the resulting corner Josh Gillies’ curling delivery was punched clear by the keeper.

Talbot, on loan from Sunderland, did well to cleanly catch an overhead kick by Sharp after a free-kick into Darlington’s penalty area.

With victory in sight, manager Tommy Wright made a couple of subs, sending on Harvey Saunders and Joe Wheatley.

Brown did well to block from Andre Johnson at close-range as Darlington dealt well with Alfreton’s last hurrah.

But the decisive moment two minutes from time, Talbot dismissed and Daniels scoring to deny Darlington three crucial points that would’ve lifted them out of the relegation zone.

It also stopped them achieving a first clean sheet in 17 matches, since beating FC United 3-0 in September, In the dying seconds Alfreton’s Pierce Bird was sent off after cleaning out Saunders, a second bookable earning a red card.

It was the first red card of the day, however, which had been most crucial, leaving Darlington third-bottom.

Goals: Styche (8, 0-1), Daniels pen (90, 1-1)

Bookings: Sharp (2, foul), Elliott (12, foul); Brown (30, foul), Thompson (45, foul); Johnson (76, foul); Heaton (77, dissent), Talbot (86, time wasting)

Sendings-off: Talbot (90); Bird (90, second bookable offence)

Referee: Dean Watson (Leeds)

Attendance: 727 (257 visiting fans)

Alfreton (4-3-1-2): Elliott; Allan, Shields, Bird, Wood; Baxendale (Disley 58), Jennings, Platt; Daniels; Mulhern (Johnson 72), Sharp. Subs (not used): Burdett, Topliss, Keane

Darlington (4-4-2): Talbot; Portas, Heaton, Brown, Galbraith; Thompson, Turnbull, Scott, Gillies (Wheatley 76); Styche, Mills (Saunders 72). Subs (not used): Marrs, Syers, Caton