FOR months Tommy Wright was an unpopular man, the target of online vitriol in response to a string of poor results, the man to blame for all of Darlington’s ills. ‘Go now,’ was the general theme of the Facebook fury, while there was measured criticism too.

That’s what comes of a season spent entirely in the bottom half of the table when the team had been expected to challenge for the play-offs.

Yet, when the final whistle went on the last day of the season on Saturday against Leamington with Darlington 16th in the table, the departed manager received warm applause and was cheered from the pitch. Some supporters even chanted Wright's name.

That such opposing views coexist among Darlington’s fanbase says a lot for the situation: opinion has been split.

When his predecessor, Martin Gray, departed in 2017 there was little doubt it was a move that suited all parties, it was time to go; but this time around there are plenty who sympathise with Wright due to the circumstances he was working in, particularly his budget being cut three times over the course of this season.

A major reason, of course, was falling attendances as a consequence of poor results, particularly at Blackwell Meadows.

Home form is crucial, it can make or break a manager, and in 2018 Quakers lost 11 of 24 home games, and by early December they had won only two of their first 12 matches at home this season, falling to 18th place.

Most significantly he lost star striker Reece Styche, last season’s leading scorer, as cautious Quakers sought to cut their cloth after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the first stage. Midfielder Dave Syers left too.

Wright would have been wise to tell of the changing circumstances, perhaps he would have elicited a greater level of understanding about the goalposts being moved.

After all, chief executive David Johnston talked on the eve of the season about targeting the play-offs, and for some that expectation remained until deep into the season.

Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong recently shared with the Non-League Paper his frustrations about having less money to invest in players, but faced with a similar scenario Wright opted to keep his counsel rather than use the media to shed light on his situation.

From a media point of view he was a pleasure to deal with. There was friction occasionally, it would be unusual for there not to be an occasional frank exchange of opinion between football manager and reporter, but for the vast majority of his tenure he was generous with his time, he was helpful and always honest.

Perhaps too honest for his own good. Speaking of his frustration at some players missing training, which he revealed after losing 3-1 away to ten-man Chester in December, did him no good as frustrated fans like to hear underperforming players have been given a ticking off, not time off.

At this point Darlington were 18th and in the midst of a nine-game winless run, a stark contrast to the pre-season positivity that had been built on a good end to last season.

Wright deserves credit arresting a decline when he succeeded Gray in October 2017, bringing in talents such as Luke Trotman and Josh Heaton – who would later be sold for around £75,000 - as well as overseeing an upturn in form that ended in 12th position and preceded a bold summer overhaul.

In retrospect, last summer Wright placed too much faith in players who have not given value for money, the budget squandered on those with a question mark over them that they were unable to adequately answer.

Only midfielder Tom Elliott, leading scorer Jordan Nicholson and defender Simon Ainge, having now stopped kidding himself he’s a striker, can be pleased with their impact.

Wright’s unsuccessful signings replaced established players such as Phil Turnbull, Josh Gillies and Tom Portas, all deemed surplus to requirements when they had something to offer.

Ironically, with his summer recruits flagging, Wright had more success by plugging gaps when he belatedly dipped into the loan market, with the mid-season arrival of striker Andrew Nelson crucial. He scored six times in five games in December.

Loanees Will Smith, Romal Palmer, Ben Jackson and Kit Elliott all made contributions too, and Darlington can expect to see more loan players bolstering the ranks next season, whoever the manager is.

The next man will need a wealth of contacts and Darlington will want him to coach a team to become greater than the sum of its parts, to harness what talent there is in the changing room.

Wright had enormous faith in his players and sometimes they would play the entertaining passing football he wanted – Blyth at home and Bradford PA away two examples - but it was not consistent, it was only in flashes, sometimes only for half a game, and without Styche Quakers badly lacked presence up front.

Too often Quakers could not kill a team off. Four times they were unable to win despite holding a two-goal lead. They won only 11 of the 21 matches in which they scored the first goal, and it happened again on Saturday against Leamington.

But nobody bears Wright any malice for underachieving. Most recognise this is a man who tried his damnedest and would love to have been successful as manager of a club he has deep affection for.

Leicester-born and bred, the striker-turned-manager thinks fondly of Darlington due to spending his best days as a player at The Northern Echo Arena.

At Blackwell Meadows, however, it has been a different story. Wright’s record reads played 71, won 21, drawn 21, lost 29.

Despite his good work in setting up an academy, it is those statistics and the impact they had on attendances, season ticket sales and potentially the impending Boost The Budget initiative that were most significant in forcing the board’s hand – had they not then the club’s financial position could have worsened.

They had little choice but to change manager.