DARLINGTON are going down and Simon Davey wants them to do it in style, at least off the pitch.
Among the new manager’s methods is an edict that all players must arrive for matches suited and booted.
So for Saturday’s meeting with Accrington Stanley, Darlington looked the part before and after the game.
Inbetween, however, there were problems as both sides laboured through a lifeless 90 minutes during which clear scoring chances were few and noteworthy incidents even fewer.
A classic case of two poor teams with little to play for.
Accrington will finish midtable while Quakers will be relegated although, remarkably, their league status remains unresolved.
Effectively, however, they are already down, and most at the Arena have been resigned to that for some time. They have 21 points to play for but are 21 behind Cheltenham, who hold a vastly superior goal difference.
So it is tomorrow evening at Rochdale, of all places, where defeat would send Darlington down, while a home victory would simultaneously see Dale wrap up their first promotion since 1969. Funny how football works sometimes.
Nobody at the Arena has had much to smile about this season, Saturday’s game included, though it at least gave Davey another opportunity to examine his squad.
He said: “I knew what I was coming into when I came here and I’m learning more about the players on a daily basis.
You learn more in the games and it was the same today, I learnt a bit more about their character.
“There’s a lot of contracts up and there’s been a lot of bad results this season so we have to look at them and decide if they are good enough to stay at the club.
“It’s my job to make sure that we’ve got a squad for next season that can challenge to come straight back up.”
Davey’s side were first to show any intent with winger Chris Moore twice weaving through Accrington’s defence, the first time winning a corner after his shot was tipped wide by keeper Ian Dunbavin.
Right-back Paul Arnison let fly from distance but Dunbavin was equal to the effort before Michael Symes had the visitors’ best attempt, chesting down a right-wing cross before his volley across goal sailed narrowly wide as the game continued to drag.
At least a group of rowdy Stanley supporters were able to keep everybody awake with their incessant, if somewhat repetitive, repertoire of chants.
It can only be assumed their version of the Anarchy In The UK, a particular highlight, was not intended as a tribute to former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who died last week. It’s not what he would have wanted.
“The tempo wasn’t there from both teams,” admitted Davey. “I spoke to the Accrington manager John Coleman, he thinks his players are on holiday already! From our perspective it was slow and ponderous.
“We tried to increase the tempo in the second half and it got a bit better but it still wasn’t at the level that I want.”
After the break striker Tadhg Purcell spurned a chance to play in the better positioned Moore, instead seeing his own effort blocked.
He almost atoned soon after, plucking the ball out of the sky with a delicate touch but his resulting strike was stopped by the keeper’s legs.
In the final five minutes keeper Shane Redmond made an impressive double save, keeping out efforts from Darren Kempson and Robert Grant.
Davey left out Andrew Milne so he could see left-back Stuart Giddings in action while Curtis Main sustained ankle ligament damage in training on Friday and may miss the final seven games.
His absence meant Davey gained a first glimpse of Mor Diop. But he is unlikely to have been impressed.
Having already jettisoned Noel Whelan, the manager has now released striker Patrick Deane and midfielder Ross Chisholm.
“I’m trying to plan for next year,” said Davey. “We’ve got a lot of pros at the club so we’re just trying to juggle things around to get players in for next season.”
As for the dress code, which has, according to captain Ian Miller, necessitated frantic trips to Matalan, Davey points out: “Footballers are role models and I hate seeing them, especially at home games, turning up in tracksuits and trainers.
“I don’t think it looks very tidy and I think we should be professional when the players come to the stadium.
“You’ve got staff all around the ground who are dressed smartly and I expect my players to dress smartly.
“If they can do that hopefully they can then take that disciplined approach on to the pitch and we’ll see it in their performances.”
Booking: Giddings (86, foul)
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northampton) – an easy game to officiate with neither team being particularly aggressive. Only had one booking to make and it was deserved 8
6 REDMOND: A good stop in first half and impressive double save late on ensured Quakers won a point;
6 Arnison: Did little wrong and unfortunate not to score with first-half long-range strike
6 White: Was substituted in the second half with a knee injury but there was no lasting damage
6 Miller: The captain kept a tight grip on Stanley striker Michael Symes
4 Giddings: Didn’t appear secure and Davey can’t have been too impressed with his showing;
5 Moore: Bright started but faded and unable to make an impact thereafter
6 G Smith: Energetic as ever in midfield but unable to spark Quakers into life
5 Dempsey: Faded in and out of the game, a passenger for lengthy spells
5 Gray: Struggled to make a significant impact and corners were a disappointment;
5 Purcell: Admitted last week he is tired and looks it.
Fluffed a great chance to tee up Moore for a goal
4 Diop: Little the French striker tried came off so no surprise when substituted.
M Smith (for Diop 64): More involved than he was on debut. May play more often now that Main is injured 5
Byrne (for White 68): Little more than routine defending after replacing the injured White 6
Convery (for Moore 74) (not used): Liversedge (gk), Milne, Groves, Mulligan
ACCRINGTON STANLEY (4-4-2):
Dunbavin 5; Lees 5, Kempson 6, Edwards 6, Winnard 6, Ryan 6, Procter 4, Joyce 5, GRANT 6, Symes 5, Kee 4 (Miles 45, 5). Subs (not used): Bouzanis (gk), McConville, Mullen, Murphy, King, Flynn
MAN OF THE MATCH
SHANE Redmond – had little to do other than three saves which were the difference between drawing and losing.