Darlington 0 Stockport 5

FOR those yet to decide whether to buy a Darlington season ticket for next year, Saturday's result, and especially the performance, will hardly have inspired fans to open their wallets.

Having failed to reach the play-offs for a third consecutive season, Quakers needed a good finish to a faltering season if they were to lure back the fans.

Two wins in the final eight games, capped by a second 5-0 thrashing this season, have done little encourage belief that success can be achieved next year.

True, Saturday's game meant nothing to Darlington.

But it appeared too many of Dave Penney's side took that approach literally and the result was a deserved hammering.

All the goals may have come after Evan Horwood's 34th minute red card for conceding a penalty, but even prior to that Quakers were second best.

Motivation and organisation were lacking as Darlington finished the season in embarrassing style against a Stockport County side who had won just one of their previous ten games.

They were chasing a play-off place but, despite results elsewhere going their way most of the afternoon, ultimately missed out to Shrewsbury Town on goal difference.

But at least their fans could see their team made a go of it, while Quakers supporters could not even console themselves with the fact that 5-0 home defeats are freak results.

They should be, but Saturday's was the second of the season, having been turned over by Rochdale in October. Quakers also lost to Carlisle by the same scoreline just over a year ago.

The fans didn't boo as they might have, but they were aware that the result was not vital and very few of Saturday's starting XI will be at the club in August.

Only Patrick Collins and Julian Joachim are under contract for next season so, with Penney having promised big changes, most of the team may have had one eye on protecting their own futures.

A player suspecting he is soon to be without a club doesn't want to get injured when he knows he'll have trial games ahead for potential employers.

Asked if a lack of motivation could have been a factor, Penney said: "You would have to ask the players that. There weren't many out of contract who started the game."

The supporters may not have showed much annoyance, but Penney was far from satisfied.

He said: "It wasn't good enough. Until the sending off, I felt we held our own but then we showed a lot of naivetà that we have in the team. The goal and going down to ten men really did knock us tremendously and the result shows that.

"Mark Phillips was carrying an injury but whatever I say is going to sound like excuses. We weren't good enough.

"We were ragged and we lost our shape. The game just summed up what's happened in the time I have been here.

"We conceded some awful goals and that's been the downfall of us all season."

Horwood saw red for knocking Liam Dickinson to the ground when through on goal, leaving Anthony Elding to put County deservedly ahead from the penalty spot.

Many teams, after having a player sent off, have found strength in adversity. But not Darlington. They crumbled, seemingly accepting defeat as inevitable.

Penney switched to 3-4-2 and after the break Darlington started brightly, until David Poole suddenly capitlised on slack defending to make it 2-0.

Debutant Darlington defender Kevin Burgess, on at the break, allowed the ball to slip through his legs, Sam Russell fumbled it and Poole tapped home. Game over with 40 minutes to play.

It was 3-0 12 minutes later. Neil Wainwright lost possession near the halfway line, the ball was quickly played through a flat-footed Quakers defence, hoping to see an offside flag, for Dickinson to shoot past Russell.

The respective humiliation and jubilation levels soon increased when more slack marking allowed Poole to run through the home defence to meet Tes Bramble's pass and make it 4-0.

The final goal, which sparked a mass exodus, came ten minutes from time, Elding tapping into an empty net after Russell parried Tommy Rowe's effort.

But soon the mood changed entirely when news filtered through that play-off chasing Bristol Rovers had taken the lead against Hartlepool United, thus depriving Pools of the League Two title and Stockport of seventh place.

It brought smiles to the faces of disgruntled Darlington fans and stunned Stockport supporters who had been singing of going to Wembley.

If Pools' defeat provided a crumb of comfort for Darlington fans it was not enough to wipe away the memory of a hugely disappointing season, so now it's up to Penney to lift spirits with his squad rebuilding.

"Unfortunately the result is going to be the lasting memory that they take away with them for the summer," he admitted.

"But you've got to look at the bigger picture - we've only lost five in 21 matches. If you carried that on for a whole season you'd be near the top of the table so I hope people trust in what we're doing."