DARLINGTON suffered their heaviest defeat of the season when they lost 5-2 at Mansfield Town, yet there is renewed hope as the team put in a spirited display worthy of much more than a heavy loss.

It was their third defeat in eight days and they remain fifth-bottom, yet this was easily their best display in recent weeks and it saw them applauded from the field by the Mansfield fans.

They had seen their play-off chasing team given a tough test by Quakers who, while losing at Field Mill, simultaneously saw the total raised by the share-selling initiative head closer to the £250,000 mark.

Reaching that figure will enable the club to exit administration and allow Craig Liddle to make additions to a team who, although vastly improved on Saturday's defeat to Alfreton, are inexperienced and badly in need of a striker.

However, Darlington got off to a remarkable start with one of their rookie players, David Ferguson, marking his first senior start by teeing up a goal in the third minute.

Rob Ramshaw and John McReady combined on the right, Ramshaw swung the ball towards the far post where Ferguson returned the ball for Marc Bridge-Wilkinson to head past Alan Marriott from close-range.

Bridge-Wilkinson's sixth goal of the season made it a fantastic opening to the match for Quakers who were low on confidence following Saturday's disappointing defeat.

But by the quarter-hour mark the Stags were level with a close-range header of their own.

Ross Dyer's free-kick from the right was met at the far post by centre-back John Dempster who had evaded the Darlington defence.

It was a blow to Liddle's side, but his team quickly regained their composure against the play-off hopefuls.

Quakers started with a 5-3-2 formation that saw Paul Arnison used as a centre-back while, with midfielder Ramshaw was pushed up front alongside Bowman and the pair linked up nicely.

A Ramshaw dipping volley landed on the roof of the net after a lay-off from Bowman who has struck an isolated player recently, while Robshaw's battling qualities highlighted Mansfield's frailties.

They were less than convincing, but Marriott was rarely called into action in an otherwise encouraging first half for Darlington that almost ended with Ramshaw scoring.

He rifled a volley wide after being given too much space by Mansfield left-back Paul Edwards and that was the cue for restless home supporters beginning to jeer.

But they were soon cheering thanks to an unlikely goal with Matt Green making it 2-1.

The ball fell to him ten yards out after O'Neill's miscued cross and it was soon almost 3-1 as Adam Murray's shot that rebounded off the post before Jordan Pickford gathered.

The second half started with Mansfield again on the attack and only an Arnison block, when Adam Smith dallied on a shooting chance kept it at 2-1.

During a sustained spell of Darlington pressure, Bowman was felled in the penalty area but referee Rob Merchant played on.

It turned into a bright period for Quakers as they continued their play from before the break, but it was suddenly 3-1 with Green on the scoresheet for the second time.

The striker, who had a short loan spell with Darlington in 2007, latched on to Murray's ball over the top, evaded both Taylor and Scott Harrison to fire past Pickford.

It was harsh on Darlington and Bowman wasted an opportunity pull one back almost immediately when he headed a Bagnall cross wide.

Soon Quakers pulled one back, however.

McReady fine's 35-yard run saw him slice through midfield and waltz past a flat-footed Edwards before slotting past Mariott.

But then came the third goal inside six minutes, this time a penalty, conceded by Arnison for a foul on Green who completed his hat-trick and in doing so made it 4-2.

With ten minutes to go and two goals behind, Liddle sent on Adam Rundle and pushed Scott Harrison up front, but there was no late drama as it was the hosts who added to the scoreline.

After losing possession in midfield, Briscoe lashed home his team's fifth goal and surprisingly celebrated with the sort of jubilation normally reserved for a last-minute Wembley winner.

Despite the scoreline, it had been a valiant effort by Liddle's team.