A CONTENTIOUS refereeing decision helped to undermine Darlington's fading hopes of a late push for the Division Three promotion play-offs last Saturday.

Former Premiership official Paul Danson played a major role in Quakers' 3-1 defeat at Torquay United by sending off defender Stuart Whitehead after half an hour.

The dismissal appeared extremely harsh as there seemed to be very little contact when Martin Gritton went down in the box under Whitehead's challenge.

The decision proved vital as the Gulls took a 2-1 lead when Alex Russell converted the resulting penalty and Quakers were left with a mountain to climb.

Their task became virtually impossible when David Woozley put the home side further ahead seven minutes before half-time, although Mick Tait's side kept battling after the break and had chances to reduce the deficit.

Ashley Nicholls spurned their best opportunity when he fired straight at the goalkeeper when clear on goal 15 minutes from time.

Yet things had started so well for Quakers when Barry Conlon, back in the side after a three-game suspension, opened the scoring with a fine left-foot volley from the edge of the area after 18 minutes.

But Gritton equalised just four minutes later and then came the incident which tipped the balance firmly in Torquay's favour.

Tait had shuffled his pack for the long trip to Plainmoor, with Neil Wainwright also returning from suspension to replace Gary Pearson in midfield and Matt Clarke - the two-goal hero of the victory over Kidderminster the previous week - continuing up front.

The enigmatic Richard Offiong, who was dropped to the bench, returned to Newcastle United this week after Tait decided not to take up the option of a third month on his loan spell.

Neil Maddison replaced Wainwright in a tactical change at half-time, but suffered a thigh injury and was taken off ten minutes from time.

Quakers desperately need six points from their next two games if they are to retain any hope of a positive outcome to the season.

They are at home to Cambridge United tomorrow, then visit bottom of the table Swansea City in a rearranged game on Tuesday night before taking on second-placed Rushden and Diamonds at Feethams the following Saturday.