DARLINGTON may as well not bother entering the FA Cup, it only brings them misery.

Plus, they would save themselves the £75 administration fee the Football Association charges to take part.

The scenario goes as follows: Hope for a good run, handed a reasonable draw, lose in the first round and then look back on where it all went wrong while some of their rivals go on to enjoy glory.

This season is no different. On Saturday, for the ninth time since 2003 they fell at the first hurdle, Lancaster City being Quakers’ conquerors on a miserable day for Darlington.

Gary Brown was sent off early, two cheap goals were conceded in a 2-1 defeat, Amar Purewal’s late effort briefly bringing hope but zero consolation and fans will still be hurting now.

Some will avoid the draw for the third qualifying round at lunchtime, but it won’t get any easier to accept, particularly in a few weeks’ time when a fellow non-league club basks in the national television limelight and is handed £75,000 for the privilege.

It could have been Darlington. Why not? It was Salford last year, Blyth the year before. Both benefited from increased exposure, higher attendances and revenue that goes hand-in-hand with a cup run – and with a ground being built at Blackwell Meadows, every penny counts.

Saturday’s tie was worth £4,500 to the winners, the following rounds even more.

Playing against a club mid-table two divisions below, Darlington had the opportunity to progress but blew it.

“We apologise for the defeat and I mean that,” said manager Martin Gray.

“The lads have been great so far this season. We are disappointed, we’re disappointed for everyone at the club and the fans that we have failed to deliver on a day like this.

“What we’ve got to do is look for the right reaction and respond against Stalybridge on Saturday.”

He avoided excuses, but was within his rights to point out he did not have the injured Kevin Burgess, Josh Gillies and Phil Turnbull, and it’s also true that his team played in midweek while Lancaster didn’t.

“I’m going to protect the players, I thought they looked tired today,” he added.

“That was our 12th game today and it was Lancaster’s eighth. One or two of our lads looked jaded.

“We need players back. We’ve got three or four out and come next weekend we might have one or two back, but that’s no excuse for today’s defeat.

“We can’t be depending on those injured players, we had enough out there to win the game.”

He altered the formation and personnel, a combination of reacting to the midweek performance against Bradford PA and the condition of Lancaster’s pitch, which looked like it had not seen a lawnmower for a couple of weeks.

Gray explained: “The pitch didn’t help at all, having said that it’s the same for both teams.

“We changed our formation because of the pitch. It’s long and dry, it’s not the slick playing surfaces we’ve been used to. It’s not an excuse, but it didn’t allow us to play the game that we wanted.”

Gray opted for 4-3-3, playing direct to Mark Beck with Nathan Cartman and Liam Hardy alongside him, and Darlington started by creating a couple of chances. But then Brown saw red.

He tangled with Jordan Connerton on the edge of the box, denying a goalscoring opportunity, and Gray was less than pleased.

“It affected everything. It was poor discipline. It didn’t help us achieve what we set out to do. A foul in that area of the pitch gives the referee the potential to send you off because you are the last man.”

Hardy was sacrificed, Chris Hunter sent on, however, referee Ricky Wooton soon evened things up by dismissing Jacob Davis for fouling Cartman, the same offence Brown was guilty of.

Ten versus ten was an even contest with chances for both sides, neither worthy of being ahead until Lancaster took the lead just after the restart with another goal Darlington should not be conceding.

They have a nasty habit of giving goals away, this time the ball taken off Terry Galbraith’s toes by Jacob Gregory who rifled past Paul Woolston for 1-0.

“It was very basic poor defending and we’ve talked about it in training,” said Gray. “We’ve got to defend better than that. You can’t allow a player to receive the ball to feet and spin off you. It was quite a simple goal.”

Quakers have conceded first in four of their last five games, and they conceded the second on Saturday too, a consequence of throwing men forward when pushing for an equaliser.

Replays make it clear Connerton was onside, despite Gray’s protestations, and he rounded Woolston to make it 2-0.

Suddenly Darlington were desperate and the game concluded with Quakers in Lancaster’s box, high balls being pumped in for Beck and Purewal, while midfielder Josh Falkingham impressed on his debut.

He was central to the attacks, nicking balls, calm in possession and dictating play.

Substitute Purewal gave Darlington hope when he pulled one back on 80 minutes, powering home a header after meeting Tom Portas’ cross, and Quakers were relentless as they sought an equaliser.

But goalkeeper Mike Hale was in top form, making saves from Galbraith, Beck and Cartman, to ensure yet another bitterly disappointing early exit for Darlington.