Lancaster City 0 Darlington 0

Darlington usually do things the hard way, it’s nothing new to their diehard fans.

Only in the penultimate game of their Northern League season did they clinch promotion, the 2011 FA Trophy final winner came in the dying seconds and, going further back, even their title wins of 1990 and ’91 under Brian Little were secured on the final day of each season.

So nobody should be surprised that their season is going to the wire and likely to finish in the play-offs.

Only by winning their last nine matches could they have made certain of finishing first ahead of Salford City, a big ask for any team.

They were on course until Saturday, however. Six wins already behind them, they would’ve made it seven had they taken one of numerous chances in a one-sided encounter at Lancaster City.

It ended 0-0, Peter Jameson sent off late on, and now the destination of the title is out of their hands while a date with Spennymoor Town in the play-off semi-final beckons.

Darlington are five points behind the leaders and if they are to win the title must win their last two matches – at Warrington tomorrow and New Mills at home on Saturday – while hope 18th-placed Ossett Town can avoid defeat at Salford this weekend.

It’s an unlikely scenario, one Martin Gray cannot see developing.

“What will be, will be regarding Salford’s result. That’s been the case for the last few weeks,” said the manager.

“I can’t see Salford dropping points. We’ve got to take maximum points from the last two games of the season to make sure we’re in the right mindset for the play-offs.

“We’re in the right mindset anyway, we’ve won six and drawn one, we just need the same focus.”

It was the finishing and not the focus where Darlington were lacking on Saturday against a tenth-placed side with a good recent record.

Lancaster, managed by Darren Peacock, had conceded only twice in six matches before Saturday and although Quakers broke them down they were unable to turn possession into goals.

In the first half Graeme Armstrong, Adam Mitchell and Gary Brown had shots either blocked of off-target while Alan White headed over from a couple of yards after meeting a Mitchell corner.

From a narrow angle David Dowson, selected ahead of Nathan Cartman, fired a shot across goal that rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.

It was more of the same after the break, Darlington creating chances and Lancaster playing for time with referee Alan Bennett doing little to stop their dawdling.

Gray added: “The game was too big for the referee. I spoke to him before the game about the importance of time on the clock, but he never got a grip on it at all.”

Billy Akrigg took the ball off Dowson’s toes in the penalty area as he was about to shoot and that was Darlington striker’s last touch as he and Armstrong were replaced very early in the second half by Cartman and Liam Hatch, the latter quickly teeing up one of the best chances of the day.

He put Tom Portas through one-on-one with Mike Hale, but scuffed his shot on the uneven pitch, allowing the keeper to save. A glorious opportunity wasted, ditto when White put another close-range header over.

Then came a fine save by Hale, the Lancaster keeper pushing away Galbraith’s venomous drive.

The desire to take points off Darlington was evident when Lancaster killed time by taking the ball toward the corner flag, a remarkable ploy for a home team when the score was 0-0.

Salford’s Class of ’92 clan will be pleased with the contribution that a team coached by former England team-mate Trevor Sinclair made to their cause.

It was frustrating for the Darlington fans who turned up in their numbers, but they were not having much fun in the Lancashire sun. It was nervy, especially during a dramatic period of injury time.

Jameson had largely been a spectator, but came dashing out of his penalty area to trip Tom Woods and was rightly sent off. His suspension starts on May 2, meaning he will miss the play-off final should Quakers get that far.

Mark Bell will take his place, but with all the subs used on Saturday Brown picked up the gloves and he pulled off a marvellous two-handed save to push over Garry Hunter’s free-kick.

Darlington did not give up and after a 97th minute corner Galbraith ‘scored’ at close-range, but celebrations were cut short by a linesman’s flag.

The draw felt like a defeat.

“From start to finish we dominated,” said Gray. “I don’t know how many corners we had, ten or 15, they made goal-line clearances, there were big saves by the keeper.

“I couldn’t ask anymore from the players, I’m proud of them, really proud of them, but we’ve dropped two massive points.

“It’s out of our hands, we’ve got to make sure it goes right to the wire.”

Bookings: Marshall (49, foul), Bailey (82, time wasting)

Referee: Kevin Mattocks

Attendance: 662

Entertainment: ***

Lancaster City (4-4-2): Hale 7; Bailey 6, Davis 7, Marshall 7, Freeland 6; Winder 7, Akrigg 6, Hunter 6, Draycott 7 (Clark 88); Poole 6 (Woods 72), Wearing 5 (Pearce 56). Subs (not used): Donlon (gk), Hudson

Darlington (4-4-2): Jameson 5; Brown 7, White 7, Hunter 7, GALBRAITH 7; A Mitchell 5, Scott 7, Portas 7, Thompson 6; Armstrong 6 (Hatch 53, 6), Dowson 7 (Cartman 53). Subs (not used): Bell (gk), Watson, Hatch, Mota


TERRY Galbraith – Delivered a number of dangerous balls into the box