DARLINGTON manager Martin Gray says that the play offs “aren’t out of the question” after his ten men nearly snatched a point against Harrogate at Blackwell Meadows.

The game turned on the dismissal of Darlington midfielder Leon Scott after just 17 minutes for a high challenge on Harrogate midfielder Lloyd Kerry, an offence which drew mixed opinions on whether the offence only merited a yellow, but referee Paul Newhouse decided almost instantly on a red card for dangerous play.

But after making one comeback from a goal behind early in the second half, Quakers couldn’t manage another from two goals down, despite a spirited rally at the end of the game.

“Over the ninety minutes, we put in a really strong, workmanlike performance, but when we had somebody sent off early in the game, the lads had to work even harder for more than a good hour or so on a really tough, heavy and claggy pitch,” said Gray.

“To finish 3-2 was a bit disappointing, because I thought we had enough chances with ten men to come away with a point, but equally you can’t afford to have men sent off for tackles like that, because you put so much more pressure on the players who stay on the pitch.

“For me, it was a challenge that was slightly mistimed and I think it was an easy one for the referee. To give his due, he was right on top of it. Their players got around him which happens these days. He probably got the decision right, but equally he got two very basic decisions wrong earlier on in the game.

“I thought the referee didn’t have great control of the game throughout the 90 minutes which for me disappoints.

“You’ve got to have eleven men on the pitch to give yourself a chance against any team, we know that. The only reason why we didn’t win the game was because we didn’t have eleven men. We showed great character and determination to come back into the game, but we left ourselves a little bit exposed and open towards the end as we pushed forward and left three at the back.

“The beauty is that we’ve got another game on Wednesday night, our first midweek game here at Blackwell Meadows.”

Quakers are still in seventh place, four points behind the last play off spot currently occupied by Halifax Town.

“The play offs aren’t out of the question. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time, and we’ve still got an opportunity. Until that’s mathematically impossible, there’s one thing for sure, we’ll be focused on the Altrincham game to get maximum points.”

Darlington skipper Kev Burgess thought that Scott shouldn’t have been shown red by the referee.

“I thought Leon caught their lad a little bit, but not enough for a red card. It was an uphill battle from then, but so disappointed that we didn’t get a point.

“We never gave up with ten men, whereas when the boot was on the other foot at Harrogate earlier in the season, they gave up. We’ll fight to the end, it was just shame that we couldn’t get a goal for a point.

“We’re not out of the play off contention just yet, we’ll keep fighting.”

Quakers played against the wind in the first half, and there wasn’t much to get the crowd going until Scott was shown red for his lunge on the masked Kerry as the ball ran loose in midfield.

Harrogate nearly went in front a minute later when the ball came in from the right and Danny Ellis headed over from a few yards.

Quakers nearly went in front themselves on 22 minutes when Stephen Thompson, who scored a cracking goal at Harrogate in the reverse fixture, nearly scored another with a right foot shot that beat Harrogate keeper Chris Elliott but hit the base of the post.

Gray took his time to decide on making his first substitution, withdrawing Nathan Cartman and putting Terry Galbraith on in midfield, and after half time Galbraith dropped to left back, with David Ferguson in front of him.

But neither of them could prevent Harrogate from taking the lead on 49 minutes, when Joe Colbeck, who spent a period on loan at the Arena from Bradford City in 2008, forced his way down the right hand side and drove the ball to the far post where Simon Ainge, a centre half turned striker, turned the ball home.

But Quakers levelled two minutes later, when Mark Beck helped on a clearance from Ed Wilczynski on for Thompson, who turned neatly and knocked the ball past the advancing keeper.

Wilczynski made two good saves as Harrogate pushed forward, but a bad bobble cost Quakers a goal when a long throw by Gary Brown dropped for David Syers twelve yards out and he sidefooted over.

Harrogate went back in front on 75 minutes, when Louis Swain, who was playing left back for Spennymoor earlier in the season, held the ball up well and played in Kerry, who ran into the box and beat Wilczynski with a low left foot shot into the bottom right hand corner.

Quakers nearly levelled when a corner by Galbraith was headed out as far as Syers who hit a terrific half volley that struck Brown, who couldn’t get out of the way just a yard out, but they went 3-1 down when Ainge slammed the ball into the roof of the net from a few yards.

Quakers threw caution with the wind in the closing stages, and they had Harrogate rocking. They pulled a goal back when a Brown long throw was flicked on by Kev Burgess for sub Liam Hardy to head past the keeper, and they had a penalty appeal turned down when Elliott appeared to push Ferguson.

Hardy forced Elliott into a diving save down to his left, and in the last minute of stoppage time, he saved a bicycle kick from Burgess on the line.

Darlington: Wilczynski, Falkingham, Ferguson, Turnbull (sub Hunter 60) Burgess, Brown, Syers, Scott, Beck, Cartman (sub Galbraith 29), Thompson (sub Hardy 70).

Subs not used: Bell, Gillies.

Booking: Falkingham (foul).

Sending off: Scott (foul).

Harrogate: Elliott, Turner, Parker, Burrell, Shiels, Ellis (sub Thanoj 59), Colbeck (sub Emmett 72), Kerry, Ainge, Swain, Leesley.

Subs not used: Platt, Agnew, Day.

Booking: Elliott (timewasting).

Referee: Paul Newhouse.

Attendance: 1,742