Until the football season was put on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic Darlington were due to play at Gateshead today, scene of a memorable goalless draw in 2011 which led to Wembley. Craig Stoddart looks back on the FA Trophy semi-final.

THURSDAY marked the anniversary of Darlington reaching the FA Trophy final in 2011 with a 0-0 draw at Gateshead, the goalless earning a place at Wembley amid joyous scenes.

Mark Cooper's team was defensively resolute throughout the second leg, and keeping goalkeeper Sam Russell protected meant the 3-2 first leg semi-final home win was sufficient to earn an aggregate victory.

The vociferous following from Darlington of 2,449 constituted almost half of the total 5,156 attendance and Cooper said: “The fans were fantastic, they were brilliant.

“They were outstanding and I think you could see that the players appreciated it because you could see that in their reaction at the end. If all those fans could come every week it would be brilliant.”

Russell added: “When that final whistle went it was probably the best feeling I've ever had as a footballer, it was fantastic. The fans haven't had much to shout about over the last couple of years, the same for most of the players, so to get to Wembley is fantastic.

“There were 2,500 Darlington fans here, you do dream of getting to Wembley so this is a dream come true.”

The 2010-11 season was Darlington’s first back in the Conference after relegation and would end in seventh, but they were always on the periphery of the play-offs places, while Gateshead ended the campaign in midtable mediocrity.

This was their third meeting in succession having drawn 2-2 at Gateshead on March 8th in a league game before Hatch’s heroics in the first leg on March 12th.

The 90 minutes of the second leg at the International Stadium were tense and perhaps that was a factor in the quality of football not being high with clear chances rare.

When Jamie Chandler let the ball drop behind him striker Gateshead striker Jon Shaw looked set to score, but just when he was about to shoot from eight yards Ian Miller executed a fine tackle to prevent the Heed from levelling the tie.

In the Heed starting XI was Michael Liddle, now with Quakers, plus Phil Turnbull, Adam Rundle and Nathan Fisher who would all go on to play for Darlington, while among their substitutes were Craig Nelthorpe and Richard Offiong.

On the whole Gateshead were powderpuff, and it was referee Mark Heywood who gave Darlington more to worry about.

Despite signalling there would be four minutes of injury time, he played over six - it was excruciating for Quakers, seconds from Wembley yet worried Gateshead would grab a leveller with one last chance.

They got one too in a dramatic climax. The ball pinged around Darlington's penalty area but Gateshead’s Nathan Fisher fired an effort into the ground which Russell plucked from under the crossbar and soon after Heywood, eventually, called it a day.

Cooper added: "I can honestly say that I didn't enjoy a single minute of that.

"I've been nervous since I got up at 8am, I think I knew it was going to be like that, I've been nervous all day and I'm just delighted that it's all over.

"The fans can go back to Darlington celebrating knowing that we've got a final at Wembley to come."

In the final at Wembley there would more late drama and joy, but that is a story for another day.

Gateshead: Deasy, Tavernier, Curtis, Clark, Liddle; Brittain (Marwood 77), Gate, Turnbull, Rundle (Nelthorpe 69); Fisher, Shaw. Subs (not used): Farman (gk), Jones, Offiong

Darlington: Russell, Arnison, Miller, Burn, Brown, Chandler, G Smith, Verma, Bridge-Wilkinson, Hatch, Campbell (Modest 54). Subs (not used): St Louis-Hamilton (gk), P Gray, Wright, Senior

Attendance: 5,156