Having won seven of their last nine games, reinvigorated Darlington are doing their utmost to stay up, whereas the last time they visited Saturday's opponents Rushall Olympic they were going up.

It was the final day of the 2015-16 season and the match marked the end of a gruelling run-in during which Darlington and Blyth Spartans were locked in a head-to-head battle for the Northern Premier League title.

A glut of postponements had led to congested fixture, so Quakers’ last nine games came in the final 22 days of the campaign.

That would be a demanding prospect for Premier League sides with their huge squads and legion of backroom staff to prepare players.

Part-time Darlington had no such resources, yet Martin Gray’s side prevailed.

With leaders such as Gary Brown, Kevin Burgess and Leon Scott – Gray’s lieutenants – driving the team on, they showed real determination and a fighting spirit to come out on top, culminating in the never-to-be-forgotten 7-1 win at Whitby Town.

A point was all that was required that night to clinch first place and promotion to National League North. With so much at stake, it was tense before kick-off – surely Darlington would not blow it now?

They didn’t. Darlington were 5-0 up after 20 minutes. That is not a typing error. It was 5-0 after 20 minutes.

Graeme Armstrong scored a hat-trick against his former club, the third being a powerful header after a fine team move to put the crown on both an incredible season and evening, one which ended with a mass celebratory pitch invasion.

The occasion remains a cherished memory for all Quakers supporters as well the players and officials, though coming on the final Thursday of the season the celebrations perhaps took a toll.

Less than 48 hours later Darlington headed to Rushall to complete the season, with little at stake and the Northern Premier League trophy with them on the team bus.

Gray arranged for a commemorative photograph on the pitch moments before kick-off, his team ethic demonstrated by inviting directors, the kitman and members of the local media to join his players in posing for the camera.

After a third promotion under Gray, the image captures a high point in Darlington’s history, though the match itself does not meet the same criteria.

It was their fourth fixture in seven days and Gray’s side understandably had nothing left in the tank as they sank to a 1-0 defeat very much in the after the Lord Mayor’s show category.

Played on a bone-hard pitch at Dales Lane and with little at stake for either team, it was a dreadful match. It was a pity, but did not matter a great deal.

The only goal came from a first half corner, Rushall’s Gavin Caines heading home.

For Darlington, youngster David Mitchell made his only appearance of the season as a substitute, joining his brother Adam on the pitch for the final 20 minutes or so.

“The most important thing to do was to win at Whitby and we did that,” said Gray.

“We’ve had a fantastic season, and we did the job on Thursday, and the week before and the week before.

“Everything seemed to stack up against us at times due to postponements, but the players stayed professional in their approach, they got the results and it’s the proudest I’ve ever been as a manager.

“The players’ focus and dedication has been nothing less than we asked of them.

“We’re worthy champions, believe me. These players have been through a lot, everybody wanted to beat them from day one.”

Darlington would have set a record for the highest points total in the Northern Premier League had they not lost, but Gray pointed out: “Records are nice, but they don’t mean as much as championships.”

Finishing on 104 points, it was Darlington’s third promotion in four seasons, winning 14 of their previous 15 matches from March 1 onwards.

In running terms, they had hit the wall at Rushall…and possibly the drink too on the way home celebrating a wonderful season.

Darlington: Jameson, A Mitchell, White, Brown, Weldon (D Mitchell 67), Portas, Galbraith, Scott, Thompson (Purewal 56), Armstrong (Gaskell 46), Cartman. Subs not used: Hardy, Provett. 

Attendance: 709