DARLINGTON manager Alun Armstrong admitted that defeat by Harrogate Town was a game too much as Quakers were knocked out of the FA Trophy.

They won a replay against Solihull Moors just three days before, whereas full-time Harrogate had a free midweek.

Quakers didn’t have the same intensity as their previous home game, partly because they looked a little heavy-legged after their heroics against Solihull, and also because Harrogate were a more polished side. They were much more inventive than Solihull, especially with Lloyd Kerry, Jack Diamond and Mark Beck in their team.

It was also a day when Darlington striker Stephen Thompson met his match in Harrogate keeper Joe Cracknell, who denied him on several occasions, while Chris Elliott at the other end had a much busier game.

Nonetheless, the run netted Quakers £10,000 in prize money, the 2-0 defeat being only their third loss in their last nine matches.

“We never played anywhere near what we normally do,” said Armstrong. “We looked jaded and tired, but maybe that was expected after what we did on Wednesday against Solihull.

“The lads gave everything and created opportunities, but the disappointing thing was that the goals came from two mistakes. Ben Hedley slipped for the first goal, and then with Omar, tiredness kicked in for the last couple of minutes when we were pushing for the equaliser.

“Effort, commitment and desire – everything was there to see, but we weren’t really at the level that we’re normally at, and the lads know that. Harrogate pressed us really high and had loads of energy.

“Harrogate are from the league above and we gave them a really good game, but we’re a little bit disappointed because we never performed in that way that we can.

“If we’d had a free week beforehand, I think we would have seen a different game, but playing Solihull and Harrogate in the space of three days was always going to be a big ask.”

Armstrong gave new loan striker Gary Martin a debut up front in a 4-4-2 formation, and he said: “I had a look at a new formation, because the game was a free hit. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, there’s still some work to be done on that. We missed a sitting midfielder massively, because Will and Omar love going forward and we miss Joe Wheatley or David Atkinson in there.

“We could see what Gaz is about; he was physical, held the ball up, liked to mix it. Once he gets his match sharpness, he’ll be a great addition for us.

“We want everyone fighting for their place now for the rest of the season. Everyone wants to play, and it’s going to be tough next week leaving a couple of players out. Everyone is important at this stage of the season.

“We’ve come a long way since the start of the season. We’ve won 16 games so far in league and cup competitions, and there were only 12 wins last season. This season isn’t over, we’ve got a lot of games to play, and something to play for.”

Quakers had a couple of early openings, one of which was a good run by Justin Donawa, who flicked the ball over two defenders and was about to pull the trigger until Harrogate defender Owen Gallacher stopped him. Donawa then set up Thompson, who beat a defender and fired just over the top.

But at the other end, Harrogate broke away and Ryan Fallowfield crossed from the right for former Darlington striker Beck, who was always a handful, to sidefoot wide.

After left back Michael Liddle went off with a hamstring injury that could keep him out for a few weeks, Brendan Kiernan sliced a good chance wide for Harrogate.

But Harrogate’s pace on the counter attack caught the home defence on 32 minutes when a clearance was flicked on by Beck and Kiernan for former Sunderland youngster Jack Diamond to run through and sidefoot past Elliott.

The keeper had two pull off an excellent save from another Diamond effort two minutes later, and then a double save to deny Lloyd Kerry and George Thomson.

In the second half, Thomson hit the bar from a Kiernan pull back, but Thompson nearly levelled for Quakers at the other end with a blistering shot that Cracknell just managed to turn around the post.

Kiernan struck the bar again before Thompson had another chance that he put wide from a good Donawa cross from the right.

Thompson had another chance when he charged past a defender, but again Cracknell was equal to his shot.

Donawa and Thompson were both off target again, before Harrogate finished Quakers off, when Kerry pounced on a misplaced pass, ran forward and buried a right foot shot past Elliott.

Now Armstrong has set his sights on a push for the play offs, beginning this Saturday with a home game against Alfreton.

Goals: Diamond (32, 0-1), Kerry (87, 0-2)

Bookings: Storey; W Smith, Bradley

Referee: Declan Bourne (Nottingham)

Attendance: 1,240

Darlington (4-4-2): Elliott, Hedley (Lambert 78), Laing, Storey, Liddle (Watson 23), Holness, Hatfield, Donawa, Campbell (Rivers 63), Thompson, Martin. Subs (not used): Connell, Atkinson, Galbraith, Bascome

Harrogate Town (4-4-2): Cracknell, Fallowfield, W Smith, Burrell, Gallacher; Bradley, Kerry (Emmett 90), Thomson, Diamond; Kiernan (Muldoon 82), Beck. Subs (not used): Clark, Hartley, Belshaw, G Smith