THE number of fans filing out of the ground well before the end of a dismal Darlington defeat said it all.

Guiseley’s debutant teenage goalkeeper had not even been given a save to make, so when it became 3-0 inside the final ten minutes the jig was up and time to go.

They had witnessed the club’s heaviest home defeat since August 2018, and arguably the biggest disappointment of this season.

Only 11 days previously Quakers beat Guiseley 2-1 at their place amid a good run of results, but very quickly the feelgood factor has dissipated and been replaced by a familiar sense of disappointment.

Alun Armstrong’s side have now suffered back-to-back 3-0 defeats and with two tricky away fixtures next – Kidderminster Harriers and Boston United –supporters will wonder what they can expect in the remainder of the season.

The answer is more of the same: more wins, more defeats and probably not many draws (no team has drawn fewer than Quakers in the National League North), such is the lot of a mid-table team aiming for a top-seven position.

They will be among the runners and riders for the play-offs for a while yet, even Tommy Wright’s team a year ago remained nominally in the race until late in the campaign.

Now tenth with 14 fixtures to go, lots of points to be won and time yet for Quakers to catapult themselves into the play-offs despite the last two results, which are typical of an inconsistent side.

Able to win at Guiseley one week with a determined display, the next week losing limply against the same opposition.

An angry Armstrong chose not to conduct a post-match interview, perhaps for best given what he may have said in the heat of the moment about his team and referee James Westgate.

Assistant Darren Holloway did the honours instead, and he admitted: “We’re struggling to put our finger on it. Nothing has changed in terms of how we want them to perform, we haven’t told them to take a step back or take their foot off the pedal, it just seems to have happened naturally.

“At times we look nervous which is strange whereas before everyone was looking to get on the ball and we want to get back to that.

“We want a bit of confidence, a bit of character and that’s going to be important in the next couple of games.

“We were outfought, it’s as simple as that. You can dress it up however you want, but if you’re out-fought in a game then you’re not going to achieve much.”

In reaction to the previous week's 3-0 defeat at Chester, Armstrong made four changes: Liam Connell, Will Hatfield, Jarrett Rivers and Gary Martin all coming into the team, Adam Campbell not starting for the first time this season, but the outcome was the same.

Amid a strong wind, 30 uneventful minutes passed before Connell handled a Ben Hedley back-pass after the ball bobbled on the poor playing surface, Westgate correctly awarding an indirect free-kick.

Connell was cautioned despite it not being a bookable offence, the referee clearly indicating as he flashed the yellow it was for handling Hedley's pass, and it was not to be the referee’s last questionable decision, though he cannot be blamed for the defeat.

From the free-kick heavyweight defender Hamza Bencherif, scorer of two goals when York beat Darlington 4-0 last season, smashed the ball into the corner of the net to give Guiseley the lead at half-time, when it was surprising Armstrong did not make any substitutions given the paucity of attacking endeavour during the first 45 minutes.

“We had a bit of a pop at them at half-time, but as a player you know yourself if you’re having a good or a bad time,” said Holloway.

“We just wanted them to come out of the second half and give us a bit more. We said that if you raise your game 15-20 per cent you’ll get a result, but it never came.”

Any hopes of a fightback were extinguished early in the second half after Westgate was conned into awarding a penalty, pointing to the spot when winger Kaine Felix sprang into the air after Alex Storey made contact.

Aram Soleman scored the penalty and while Darlington made substitutions, Campbell and Stephen Thompson coming on and switching to 3-4-3, Guiseley held firm without much danger.

Westgate made himself more unpopular by turning down a strong Quakers penalty appeal as Thompson went to ground when flattened by Bencherif, though the referee had earlier been lenient by only showing Joe Wheatley a yellow card after a late lunge on Lee Shaw.

“I’m not one to blame referees,” said Holloway. “I said to him afterwards that even if we’d won 3-0 I would’ve considered him to have had a bad game.

“We get them in this league unfortunately, you get indifferent referees and but we’ve got to be better ourselves.”

Soleman triggered the Quakers exodus by completing the scoring after dribbling into Darlington’s penalty area on the left and firing low across Connell to make it 3-0.