Darlington 1 Mansfield Town (AET)

THERE have been better Darlington goals, but none have been as dramatic as the one which saw Chris Senior become a hero on Saturday.

Without question, it was the most exciting moment in the club’s history.

Click here to view a gallery of pictures from the day

Nothing in the 128-year existence of a club that has suffered more than most in recent years has come close to matching the euphoria triggered by Senior’s late Wembley winner.

At the end of extra-time in a tense FA Trophy final with Mansfield Town, a penalty shoot-out was just seconds away – then came the Senior moment.

After Ian Miller flicked on a long Aaron Brown throw, Tommy Wright’s header bounced back off the crossbar and Senior was in the right place at the right time to etch his name into Quakers folklore with a never-to-beforgotten moment.

Ecstatic fans jumped for joy, there were tears of happiness everywhere and even a manager on the pitch! Mark Cooper was unable to stop himself as he raced on to the turf to join his players in their celebration, and who could blame him?

The near 10,000 Darlington supporters behind the goal probably felt like doing likewise after seeing their team clinch victory at the death.

There can’t be a better way to win a match than to score in the last minute of extratime during a cup final at Wembley.

It was the stuff of dreams, particularly for Darlington fans who had never known such a moment. Such feelings of pure elation are the reserve of other clubs. No other clubs specifically, just not Darlington.

Twice previously they had been to Wembley and on each occasion lost without even scoring. Those defeats, in playoff finals in 1996 and 2000, made Saturday’s win all the more enjoyable.

Cooper received a huge ovation from Quakers’ supporters when he lifted the Trophy in the Royal Box, and he said: “I’m really pleased for the fans because they have stuck with us through thick and thin.

“They’ve had some tough times and that result today will be very sweet.

“I thought we shaded it and thought we had the better chances, but the longer it goes on the more you start to think that you aren’t going to get a goal.

“We hit the woodwork a couple of times and I don’t think our keeper had loads to do.

“I thought, when Tommy Wright missed a chance right at the end of normal time, it wasn’t going to be our day, but we kept going and I thought we deserved to win.”

Injuries and player ineligibility affected Mansfield’s team selection and they could name only four substitutes, while key players, Paul Connor and Adam Murray started despite being less than fully fit.

“We were always aware of how many games Mansfield had played and how many injuries they had, so I thought the longer the game was played the stronger we would be, which I thought was evident,” said Cooper.

In only the second minute though, Connor, who had shrugged off a calf strain, could have given the Stags the perfect start as he almost latched on to a through-ball but Quakers keeper Sam Russell was alert enough to clear the danger.

It was a cagey beginning, with little to choose between the sides, which was no surprise. Although Darlington finished ten points ahead of Mansfield in the table, their league meetings this season ended 1-1 and 0-0.

Completing the entire 120 minutes meant Russell became one of only two players, the other being captain Ian Miller, to play the entirety of all seven of Darlington’s Trophy ties.

Brown started all seven but he was subbed in the quarterfinal with Salisbury City.

Aman Verma, however, could have joined Russell and Miller in completing that achievement but he did not make the Wembley starting line-up. Prior to Saturday he had started all but two of the previous 34 games in all competitions, but Cooper opted for a 4-3-3 formation, which meant Verma on the bench and a start for Chris Moore.

The pacey winger lined up to the right of Wright and John Campbell in the forward line, a remarkable feat for Moore, who was completely out of the first-team frame a month ago, as was Wright.

Moore played on despite a nasty incident early on when he lost two of his front teeth after the Stags’ Adam Smith slid in and accidentally caught the winger, who required lengthy treatment.

But, having waited so long for his chance, clearly Moore was not about to give up his final spot now.

He could even have scored.

His deft header was caught cleanly by Mansfield keeper Alan Marriott, who only recently returned to action after breaking a finger and had a fine game.

During a decent spell for Darlington, Gary Smith passed up an opportunity to shoot before he was dispossessed in the penalty area by Murray, though there were Quakers appeals for a spot-kick.

Then Campbell wasted an opportunity to pass the ball to the unmarked Marc Bridge- Wilkinson as the play-maker arrived in the penalty area.

After Moore’s scare, Verma had been patiently warmingup and he got his chance shortly before the break, but it was Smith who made way after aggravating an ankle problem.

Verma’s pace and willingness to run with the ball added some drive to Darlington’s midfield, while at the back Russell was protected by a defence that saw striker Liam Hatch used as a centre-back.

He enjoyed a solid game, heading and kicking away any danger, though a rare howler gifted Connor a chance. He raced away, but Hatch’s blushes were saved as Darlington’s defence retreated in time.

The game opened up marginally after the break, with each side trading opportunities to score. After Louis Briscoe beat Brown and Campbell on the right, his low shot was deflected narrowly over the bar by Connor.

Hatch’s absence up front meant Mansfield were dominant in the air. Former Darlington captain Steve Foster and centre-back partner Tom Naylor won almost every high ball as Wright struggled to make an impact, though a slip in the Stags defence went unpunished early in the second half. Miller evaded his marker to meet Bridge- Wilkinson’s corner, but Quakers’ captain headed over.

He had his head in his hands because he knew it had been his chance to become a hero.

Cooper was looking for someone to fulfil that role and on 75 minutes he turned to Senior. Having been injured for three weeks and not scored since October, the Huddersfield-born forward might not have immediately appeared to be the answer.

But, after replacing Campbell, Senior almost immediately created a chance.

The nippy forward tackled right-back Gary Silk and delivered a low cross that keeper Marriott cut out before Wright could get to it.

With full-time approaching the tension mounted. One chance could have been enough to win the game and Darlington had two of them in the last two minutes, but took neither.

Nobody could fault Bridge- Wilkinson’s effort, though. His curling free-kick from 20 yards sailed over the Mansfield wall and past the keeper but agonisingly bounced back off the post. Mansfield breathed a sigh of relief and the Stags were soon handed another reprieve.

Bridge-Wilkinson dinked an inviting ball into the penalty area for Wright, who timed his run to perfection. But from eight yards and unmarked, he somehow headed wide. He could not have asked for a better opportunity to become a Wembley hero.

Supporters were stunned while Wright lay motionless on the turf and seconds later the full-time whistle blew.

Inevitably players on both sides were tired, and shortly after the restart Bridge- Wilkinson surrendered to cramp.

Losing their chief creator may have appeared a blow to Quakers, but almost immediately his replacement, Paul Terry, teed up Verma in the penalty area, but he dallied and the chance was gone.

Mansfield had their moments too. Substitute winger Ashley Cain added pace to their attack and there were loud appeals for a penalty when he went to ground under a Brown challenge, but referee Stuart Attwell waved play on.

Earlier, Mansfield also believed that Paul Arnison had felled Connor in the area, and Stags boss Duncan Russell said: “They looked like penalties to me and both my players said they were bowled over.

“I said to the referee that sometimes you have to be brave.”

But Cooper said: “I thought the referee did well. He’s from a good level and he had a good game, he let some things go and allowed the game to flow.”

In the second period of extra-time Darlington hit the wood work for a second time, with Wright becoming more effective and coming so close to scoring.

After a Brown corner, Wright’s header hit the base of post and the loose ball fell to Miller, but Marriott was again equal to the effort. That incident came in almost the 120th minute and it appeared penalties would be necessary.

With Darlington not holding a great spot-kick record, few would have been confident.

Cooper admitted: “I wasn’t confident about going to penalties, not after seeing them practice in training on Friday. All the players took one each and I think we scored once.”

Cooper need not have worried because up popped Senior, all 5ft 4in of him, to head home from a yard out.

Cue Darlington celebrations.

Cooper added: “I was dreading penalties, which is why we gambled a bit at the end to try to nick one.

“I think Aman wanted to try to take the throw quickly, but we made him wait and got Browny on it. We sent everybody forward, Browny slung it in and we managed to get a break.”

Quakers have enjoyed bigger achievements, such as their five promotions, all of which required success over the course of a season. Longstanding supporters still affectionately recall the 1966 triumph, for instance.

Saturday was not even Darlington’s first piece of silverware, as 20 years ago they won the Division Four title and the year before that the Conference title.

But while there has been the occasional dalliance with success, there has never been a moment as breathtakingly brilliant as the 120th minute on Saturday at Wembley.

Senior’s goal sparked pure pandemonium as elated supporters and players celebrated a once-in-a-lifetime experience, creating memories that will last a lifetime.


Goal: 1-0: Senior (120, close-range header after Wright’s header rebounded off the top of the crossbar)
: Wright (foul, 112)
: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton) – allowed the game to flow and got two major decisions right when Mansfield believed they should have been awarded penalties 8
Attendance: 24,688
Entertainment: *****

7 Russell: Did everything asked of him with the calmness and assurance that is his norm;
7 Arnison: Got forward extremely well, contributing to the attack like a right-winger
7 Miller: Lifting the Trophy was the captain’s reward for not walking out on the club during administration in 2009
7 Hatch: Was badly missed up front but proved his worth at the back with an aggressive display in the air
8 Brown: His dead-ball delivery caused Mansfield problems and he did well to restrict Briscoe’s involvement;
9 CHANDLER: His brief was to nullify Murray, a tough job but one he managed as he buzzed around the pitch winning a series of tackles
6 G Smith: The midfielder’s final was brought to a premature end due to a frst-half injury
8 Bridge-Wilkinson: Always looked likely to tee up a teammate to score, and almost got the winner himself with a freekick;
7 Moore: The lively winger deserves credit for playing seemingly unhindered by losing two front teeth early on
6 Campbell: Worked hard for the team but it just was not the Geordie striker’s day
6 Wright: Unable to win much in the air until extra-time when he hit the post and it was from his header that Senior got the winner

Verma (for G Smith 39): His arrival added pace to Darlington’s midfield 7
Senior (for Campbell 75): Added pace to Quakers’ attack and scored a goal that makes him a Darlington hero 8
Terry (for Bridge-Wilkinson 100): Played some nice passes during a 20-minute cameo. Like his brother, can now call himself a Wembley winner 6
Not used: St Louis-Hamilton (gk), P Gray

MANSFIELD TOWN (4-4-2): MARRIOTT 8; Silk 6, Foster 7, Naylor 7, Spence 6; Briscoe 5, Thompson 6, Nix 6, Smith 6 (Cain 95); Murray 7 (Mitchley 108), Connor 7. Subs: Collett (gk), Stonehouse

JAMIE Chandler – May be small in height but was huge in presence. The midfield dynamo did extremely well in the crucial anchor role, winning vital tackles throughout the final