A THREADBARE Darlington side put on a brave show, but succumbed to a late goal glut as Notts County sealed the League Two title with an emphatic win last night.
The 5-0 scoreline gives an unfair reflection of the match as a whole as the big-spending visitors were matched for lengthy spells by an inexperienced Quakers side.
Manager Simon Davey had to make four changes due to injury, had no senior strikers available and handed first starts to two teenagers.
Despite this lack of experience in comparison to County, who could afford to leave proven players on the bench, Davey’s team twice came close to taking an unlikely lead against the Magpies who were
in party mood from the off at The Northern Echo Arena.
After seeing Darlington’s patched-up XI, the Magpies may have been expecting an easy ride, but Kasper Schmeichel was the first keeper called into action.
He made an magnificent acrobatic save to push over a 30- yard Gary Dempsey drive as Quakers held their own in a promising first half.
They restricted the visitors’ sights of goal and began to grow in confidence with a fiveman midfield stifling the opposition.
Darlington came close to scoring on 19 minutes.
A clever Dempsey free-kick allowed Simon Madden to cross from the right, but Alan White put his header over the bar when he should have tested Schmeichel.
The large away following had been silenced by Quakers’ stubborn start. However, County got a goal they scarcely deserved just past the half-hour mark.
Soon after Graeme Lee’s header had rebounded off the foot of the post, Delroy Facey burst into the penalty area and crossed for Johnnie Jackson who slid the ball between Nick Liversedge’s legs.
Within two minutes Facey barged through the middle and latched on to a high ball, only to lift his effort over the bar.
The heavyweight striker did something similar soon after the break, bearing down on goal, but shooting wide with what proved to be last chance for some time as the teams cancelled each other out.
After holding firm, but struggling to give Schmeichel much to do, a goal out of nothing gave County the spark to create a margin of victory that had seemed unlikely for the first 70 minutes.
A ball back into the penalty area was met on the edge of the six-yard box by defender Mike Edwards whose overhead kick made it 2-0.
Straight away Davey switched to 4-4-2, sending on 16-year-old striker Jordan Marshall for his debut.
But it was soon 3-0 with dithering defender Mark Bower giving away possession on the edge of the penalty area which allowed Craig Westcarr to round Liversedge.
The visitors were not done yet and substitute Luke Rodgers finishing off the scoring with two sublime finishes.
On 78 minutes a ball down the line was controlled by Rodgers who turned teenager defender Dan Burn, on as a sub for Bower, and the striker rifled home a fine shot.
It was a goal that even had some Darlington fans applauding in appreciation.
Soon after Rodgers had another.
This time he evaded Darlington’s defence to backheel in Westcarr’s cross to complete the rout.
After the match the Notts County players celebrated their title win on the pitch, while Davey was left to ponder what sort of team he can field on Saturday at Macclesfield Town.
Tadhg Purcell, Mor Diop, Stuart Giddings and Gary Smith all missed out last night due to injury and none are likely to feature again this season.
■ Darlington announced two signings yesterday with Sunderland midfielder Jamie Chandler, 21, who had a loan spell with Quakers at the start of the season, and German left-back Dominik Werling, 27,
Goals: Jackson (33, 0-1), Edwards (70, 0-2), Westcarr (75, 0-3), Rodgers (78, 0-4), Rodgers (81, 0-5)
Booking: Hunt (42, foul)
Referee: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire) 7
Darlington (4-5-1): Liversedge 5; Madden 6, White 5, Bower 4 (Burn 77), Milne 5; Mulligan 6 (Marshall 71), McReady 6, Dempsey 7, Groves 6, Convery 7; M Smith 6. Subs (not used):
Redmond (gk), Riley, Bains
Notts County (4-4-2): Schmeichel 7; Thompson 7, Lee 6, Edwards 7, Hunt 6; Davies 5 (Rodgers 71), Ravenhill 7, Bishop 8, Jackson 7 (Clapham 65, 5); Facey 8 (Hawley 80), Westcarr 8.
Subs (not used): Hoult (gk), Hamshaw, Canham, Akinbiyi
Man of the Match
Delroy Facey – The bulky striker proved a handful