DARLINGTON manager Alun Armstrong blasted his players after a first half horror show against Brackley, branding it "abysmal".

His team lost 5-1, Brackley scoring their goals before half-time, the performance coming hot on the heels of the battling 2-2 draw at Walsall last week and was certainly unexpected.

But at least Armstrong can now use the failings as part of his team talk ahead of the replay against the League Two side on Wednesday.

And if Walsall had somebody at the game, they might go away thinking that they only have to turn up on Wednesday, which would be a mistake as Quakers won’t perform this badly again, certainly if the manager has his way.

Armstrong has been badly hit by injuries, a suspension and two international calls ups, but he didn’t use those as excuses.

“That first 45 minutes was one of the worst I’ve ever managed,” he said. “The first thing I said to the lads during the week at training was that they shouldn’t drop their levels or the intensity that they play and that they can’t just switch performances on or off.

“We didn’t deserve anything from the game – that first half was pretty abysmal.

“After 15 minutes, we capitulated – I didn’t expect that at all. If we’d scored early on at 0-0, then we could have gone on to win the game.

“I’m extremely disappointed, and I’m absolutely gutted for the fans. I told the players that they had let every single fan down who had travelled. Me and the staff included, we let everyone down.

“Yes, I’ll take responsibility because we played a back five, but that was all we had left. I had four centre halves on the pitch, but their centre forward got a free header in the box to score their third goal. It was just baffling – for the second goal, our defence looked like a bunch of strangers.

The match had started with plenty of promise and Quakers playing with three at the back. They knocked the ball around confidently, and nearly scored when Stephen Thompson found wing back Jarret Rivers, who cut inside from the right and hit a left foot shot that took a slight deflection and went just past the post. And from his corner that followed, Louis Laing headed against the base of the post.

But then it all started to unravel against some clinical finishing.

Former York striker Wes York cut in from the left and struck a low shot that keeper Liam Connell could only parry low down to his left, and Lee Ndlovu snapped up the loose ball for the opener.

There were question marks over the defence for the second goal, when midfielder Matt Lowe burst forward and was allowed plenty of time to fire a left foot shot into the top right hand corner of the net.

Quakers had a couple of half chances to pull a goal back, but it was 3-0 on 32 minutes when Shep Murombedzi’s header was cleared off the line, but Lowe chipped the ball back into the middle for Ndlovu, completely unmarked, to head in.

York then fired into the side netting and Murombedzi straight at Connell, before Brackley scored the fourth on 42 minutes when a slick move by the home side from the halfway line allowed York to side-foot home from ten yards.

And it was 5-0 just on the half time whistle when Shane Byrne’s free kick from out on the left went through a crowd of players and past the unsighted Connell into the net.

Armstrong introduced new signing Jack Lambert for the second half in place of Omar Holness, and the attacking midfielder showed some useful touches without getting a sniff of goal.

Thompson managed to score his 99th goal for the club on 66 minutes from the penalty spot after Joe Wheatley was pushed to the ground.

Quakers had more energy about them in this half, but Brackley nearly made it six when Thierry Audel had a shot blocked by Connell, and hit the post from the rebound.

Armstrong then took off Jarrett Rivers and Adam Campbell on 75 minutes as a precaution and replaced them with his 16-year-old son Rhys and 18-year-old Mason Hurworth, who gave a good account of themselves in the closing stages.

As Armstrong said afterwards; “I won’t need to say much to the lads on Wednesday, they know that they have to be better.

“It was extremely disappointing. The players probably had their minds elsewhere, and that’s something I’ve been re-iterating into them all week. They can’t be thinking of that Walsall game, they can’t just switch a performance on and off.

“I didn’t want to go into the Walsall game after something like this, it’s not what you want.

“I shouldn’t have to do much of a team talk on Wednesday after that. It looked as though they were saving themselves for Wednesday in that first half, and that was something I was trying to get hold of. It was just so annoying, and I ripped into them at half time. We got a response, but Brackley took their foot off the gas. We were still nowhere near good enough.

“We’ve got to pick ourselves up now and make sure we’re ready for Wednesday against Walsall. “

Terry Galbraith suffered a knee injury near the end, limping off leaving Quakers with ten men for the last few minutes as all subs had been used.

Armstrong said: “We thought it was a twist, but it’s a kick on the back of the knee. There was no point in risking it because the game was gone.”

Goals: Ndlovu (11, 1-0), Lowe (15, 2-0), Ndlovu (31, 3-0), York (42, 4-0), Byrne (45, 5-0); Thompson pen (66, 5-1)

Booking: Watson 67

Referee: Matt Corlett

Attendance: 714

Brackley (4-4-2): Lewis, Myles, Franklin, Byrne, Audel, Dean, Lowe, Murombedzi, Walker (Holman 60), Ndlovu (Daire 81), York (Fairlamb 75). Subs (not used): Armson, Noon

Darlington: (3-4-1-2): Connell, Storey, Laing, Galbraith, Watson, Rivers (Hurworth 75), Wheatley, Hatfield, Holness (Lambert 46), Campbell (R Armstrong 75), Thompson. Subs (not used): Elliott, Johnson