THE relegation pressure eased on Darlington despite losing at Stockport County on Saturday.

Quakers produced an enterprising performance and spiritedly took the game to second-placed Stockport.

But they played with only ten men for almost half of the match as Luke Trotman was sent off early in the second 45 and were beaten by two goals scored from set-pieces.

The 2-0 defeat saw Darlington drop to 18th, so there was a sense of relief that third-bottom FC United of Manchester had lost 4-0 to bottom club Nuneaton and second bottom Ashton United lost to Leamington.

That means Quakers are nine points clear of the drop zone, and victory on Saturday at home to FC United would just about see them safe.

“I don’t want to rely on what other people are doing,” said manager Tommy Wright. “I seem to say the same things week in and week out, but I do genuinely believe in the lads.

“They are good players and we’re very close to being a good team. Good teams don’t keep getting beat, and unfortunately we’re suffering too many defeats, and we go into next Saturday wanting to win a game of football. I want to do it by ourselves, and not worrying about what other people do.

“I think we’re a good team. I know people will argue with that because of where we are in the league and the results we’ve been getting, but I do really believe in those lads and they are giving me absolutely everything.

“There was a massive spell in the first half when we had Stockport on the ropes, but we didn’t take our chances. It’s nice on the eye, but we were undone by a setplay just before half time.”

Quakers’ pace on the break caused some moments of concern for Stockport in the first half, and Wilson Kneeshaw forced a good save out of Ben Hinchliffe after he’d cut in from the left.

They looked reasonably solid at the other end with full debutant Ben Jackson, on loan from Huddersfield Town, doing well, and only allowed Stockport two real chances. The first when Matty Warburton got away from the defence on the end of a long ball, but Simon Ainge put in a good tackle on the striker.

Then Dan Cowan broke on the right and pulled the ball back for Warburton, but Quakers goalkeeper Jake Turner pushed his shot around the post.

Quakers seemed to be holding their own until they undeservedly conceded a goal from a setpiece just before half time. Scott Duxbury curled a free kick over from the left for the ball to be nodded down by Ashley Palmer for Adam Thomas to steer past Turner.

Darlington were reduced to ten men just three minutes after half time. Trotman, who had been booked for delaying a throw in during the first half, pulled back winger Elliott Osbourne and was shown a second yellow – one of only six fouls that Quakers committed in the game.

Wright had to reshuffle with Osagi Bascome coming on for Kneeshaw, but soon it was 2-0, when midfielder Jordan Keane headed in Duxbury’s inswinging corner.

Stockport could have had more, so Wright reshuffled again and made the unusual move of substituting a substitute, debutant Bascome replaced after only 23 minutes on the field.

Wright explained: “Osagi went on to play 4-4-1, but it wasn’t happening and we lost a lot of legs in the middle of the park when Tom Elliott went over to go and play right back following Luke Trotman’s sending off.

“It wasn’t working, we were getting overrun and looking as if we were going to concede a third. It’s not nice to substitute a sub, especially to someone making his debut, but it’s not about individuals, it’s about the team.

“We made an attacking change to get the wing backs on and put Tom back in the middle of the park. It gave us new life, I had to do it.”

Alex Henshall was sent on for Bascome and the new width led to some chances.

Hesitation in the Stockport defence let in Harvey Saunders, but Hinchliffe blocked at the striker’s feet, then Elliott, moved from right back to centre midfield, dribbled through but Hinchliffe saved.

And in the last minute, Stephen Thompson tried to catch Hinchliffe off his line with a delicate chip, but the keeper saved.

Wright added: “The lads gave everything there. Going down to ten men was a difficult ask with 40 minutes left to play, but we stuck to it and we still tried to get something from the game.

“We tried to create chances, but the second goal was a sucker punch. We kept going right up to the final whistle, the lads didn’t fold, and I’m proud of what the ten players did in that last 40 minutes.”