Darlington are searching for their fourth manager in two years after bringing to an end Mark Cooper's 16-month reign at The Northern Echo Arena last night.

The club last night said they had "parted company" with Cooper and his assistant Richard Dryden.

Cooper, ultimately, paid the price for a poor start to the Blue Square Bet Premier season which deteriorated further with a 3-1 defeat at Braintree Town on Saturday.

Now Darlington chairman Raj Singh is inviting applications to fill the role, with the likes of Colin Cooper, Steve Agnew and Craig Hignett three of the early names thought to have been discussed for the job.

Former Darlington manager Dave Penney would also be interested in the role, while having made a surprise move for Wales boss Gary Speed when the position was last vacant, Singh could also make a hugely ambitious attempt to lure an even bigger name.

But for now Singh and managing director Graham Fordy will sift through any applications that arrive on their desk over the next few days.

Youth team coach Craig Liddle, a fans' favourite who has worked wonders at bringing talented teenagers through, will take charge of training today ahead of Saturday's FA Cup tie with Hinckley Town.

But Singh is keen to make a quick appointment and would like the vacancy filled for the visit of Telford United to the Arena on November 5.

He said: "I make every single decision in the best interests of the club and I've thought long and hard about this situation for a few weeks, while also speaking to a lot of people I know in the game, and eventually I've come to this very reluctant conclusion.

"Mark and Richard worked tirelessly to make it work but it just wasn't happening and, as everyone knows, football is a results business.

"But we leave on good terms. Mark was a pleasure to work with, I consider him a friend and I wish him all the best in the future."

Both Cooper and Dryden were still under contract until the end of the season and the club are yet to reach an agreement over the terms of their settlement.

But Singh, who only publicly backed the managerial pair to turn things around a fortnight ago, just felt he was left with little choice after back-to-back defeats to Braintree and Barrow.

Cooper, who won 32 of his 74 matches in charge and lost 20, has made huge alterations to the Darlington squad in his one-and-a-half seasons in charge and 14th in the division was viewed not good enough by the chairman.

But the former Peterborough and Kettering boss, who was linked with jobs at Grimsby, Lincoln and Yeovil earlier this year, will always be remembered as the manager who led Darlington to FA Trophy glory in May.

And Singh - who has appointed Steve Staunton, Simon Davey, Ryan Kidd and Cooper since taking over the club in the summer of 2009 - insisted they have parted on good terms.

Singh said: "It's with huge regret that we part company with both Mark and Richard - nobody wanted it to work more than me.

"I feel that I built up an excellent working relationship with Mark over the last 16 months and I'd like to thank him and Richard for their hard work and dedication and, of course, for bringing us the club's greatest day ever with the FA Trophy win at Wembley.

"But results have not been anywhere near where we wanted them to be and our recent results have been closer to relegation form than promotion form, which has been baffling.

"I supported Mark with a strong budget and I backed his judgement in bringing in a number of new players, even up to last week when we brought in two new players, because we wanted to give him every chance to turn this around.

"But we said from the start of the season that our ultimate aim this year was promotion, and we've been nowhere near it, despite having one of the best squads in the Conference which is strong enough to be competing for the play-off places at least."