THE last thing Clarke Keltie wanted having been sidelined for eight months was for his comeback game to turn sour. But it turned into a nightmare when he was sent off in the last minute on Saturday - only for his manager to later praise him for it.

In the dying seconds of an end-to-end encounter, with the score tied at 1-1, Darlington and Wycombe Wanderers resembled two exhausted heavyweight boxers staggering around waiting for the final bell to ring.

Suddenly, Matt Bloomfield latched on to a through-ball and was about to deliver a knockout punch until Keltie sent the midfielder to the deck with a sneaky, but necessary, dig in the ribs.

Hodgson said: "When Kelts came off I said 'well done son'. If he had not made that challenge the ball would have been in the back of the net and we would have lost.

"On this occasion I am happy with him for being sent off.''

It was just enough to prevent a Wycombe winner which would have been unfair on Quakers because although the Chairboys were the best team to play at the newly-named 96.6 TFM Arena this season, Darlington matched them.

Keltie's red card meant Quakers went down to ten men, but it was not the first time Darlington put in a fully-committed, entertaining performance without their full complement of players - they had done it on four previous occasions.

Three times Joe Kendrick went off to receive treatment for a head wound while Matt Clarke was also examined on the touchline. It was while Clarke was off the field that Tommy Mooney scored the second half equaliser to Richard Keogh's first half own goal.

But after a game which saw each side play quick, passing football, the visitors deserved a point as did Darlington who put in one of their best performances of the season.

In a 4-4-2 formation from the start, throughout the afternoon Darlington appeared a more potent team capable of causing their opponents problems.

After his 100th game since returning to the club for a third spell, Hodgson was satisfied with a point but he was disappointed at the manner in which Quakers conceded Mooney's leveller.

He said: "Neil (Wainwight) has got to understand what he is doing when it comes to marking. He said he thought he had him marked but there is a difference between thinking and doing.

"You give a player like Tommy Mooney a yard and he will score."

Wycombe remain unbeaten in the league this season and Hodgson said: "I would love to have ended their record but a draw as fair, we did not deserve three points and that is credit to Wycombe because they were the best side to play us for as long as I can remember.

"They were not just a strong side, they played to win which is admirable because that is not always the case in this division.

"I have never seen so many injured Darlington players on the pitch at one time. Matty Appleby came off with an injury but Ryan Valentine, Anthony Peacock and Joe Kendrick were all having problems and it is credit to them for keeping going."

New signing Tresor Kandol had a quiet debut although he did manage to earn himself a booking for diving inside 15 minutes.

Wycombe started brighter and Stefan Oakes tried his luck three times from distance.

Sam Russell's stop from Bloomfield shortly afterwards was stunning; flinging himself across the goal to save at almost point-blank range after Danny Senda beat Joe Kendrick to cross.

But then Quakers came alive, bossing the remainder of the half with Simon Johnson prominent.

He was fouled when about to enter the Wycombe area, then saw a shot beaten away for a corner.

The striker-turned-midfielder enjoyed better fortunes later on and played a huge part in scoring the opener on 35 minutes.

Receiving the ball from Russell on the left, Johnson raced up the flank, cut inside and a curled right-footed shot which was deflected into his own goal by Keogh.

But Wanderers were incensed as seconds before they wrongly believed Senda had been fouled in Darlington's penalty area.

Darlington had the momentum at this stage but the game was brought to a sudden halt when Oakes injured his arm when clattering Ryan Valentine close to the dug-outs. Hodgson was quick to confront Oakes but he quickly turned sympathetic when it became clear Oakes' right arm was in a bad way.

The break in play may have killed the game off at the end of the first half, but Akpo Sodje should finished off Wycombe after the break but miscued a free header from a Johnson free-kick.

Wycombe soon had Quakers on the backfoot and the equaliser came in the 67th minute when Darlington were unable to clear and Senda's right wing cross was chested home by Mooney who evaded Wainwright to shoot home.

Kandol's only scoring chance came with 12 minutes to play when, with his back to a goal, he turned and shot tamely when he should have laid it off to the better positioned Carlos Logan.

The first red card of Keltie's career came after Mooney, a pivotal figure for Wycombe, flicked a ball into Bloomfield's path but he was soon stopped in his tracks.

Wycombe argued it was just inside the penalty area but referee Carl Boyeson correctly adjudged the incident to have occurred outside - Quakers could have done with him at Wrexham a fortnight ago.

Argentinian Sergio Torres almost managed what Michael Owen did on Saturday evening by scoring a late winner. He pounced on Sodje's bad touch and let fly from outside the area but Russell was equal to it, leaving Torres, who left the stadium wearing a replica shirt of his national team, disappointed. Not for the last time on Saturday either