Hereford United 1, Darlington 1.

DESPITE the humiliation of the Rochdale debacle just eight days earlier, Martin Gray declined to use Darlington's worst performance in recent years as a motivating factor before Saturday's much-improved draw at Hereford.

Even by Gray's own admission, it couldn't really get any worse and any sort of improvement on the 5-0 Dale defeat was always on the cards.

And so it proved at the weekend, as Quakers went a way to restoring some form of respectability at Edgar Street with a display - first half in particular - former boss David Hodgson would have been proud of.

Gray himself has made little secret of his desire to become Hodgson's long-term successor at the 96.6TFM Darlington Arena.

It's an aspiration which lay in tatters after the Rochdale defeat, but one, which was given the kiss of life on Saturday.

It's just a shame chairman George Houghton was not at Hereford to witness Gray's second audition. He is currently in America.

"The Rochdale game was never discussed," revealed Gray. "We said from Friday night that's in the past and we were back on the training ground on the Monday with a clean slate.

"No matter how bad that game was (against Rochdale) I think this was a massive improvement.

"What I did ask is that the lads show some character and to do what they're good at, and that's passing the ball, which I thought we did very well."

The intentions of Houghton are not yet clear, although a replacement for Hodgson must come sooner rather than later if Quakers are to get their hopes of promotion back on track.

Gray and Neil Maddison have been quick to implement their own ideas and on Saturday, with Alun Armstrong working as a lone front man and five across midfield, their tactics were never in doubt.

But, if Quakers are to make a renewed assault on the upper reaches of League Two, consistency is the key and that will not be achieved until a full-time manager is appointed.

Quakers have already played in several different systems - this set-up was 4-5-1, after playing 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in their two previous games - and a new manager will no doubt have his own ideas.

On a visit to Edgar Street just over a decade ago a 2-1 win set Quakers on their way to a play-off final date with Plymouth at Wembley.

On Saturday, Hereford captain Tamika Mkandawire denied Quakers what would have been a deserved three points.

Ruefully, the visitors were made to pay after squandering several chances to add to Armstrong's 36th minute opener.

Indeed, had Neil Wainwright made it two before half-time, when his shot was cleared off the line, Gray and Maddison may well have been celebrating their first win in joint-charge of team affairs.

"When we passed the ball about I thought we carved them up quite easily,'' added Gray. "In the first half we played magnificently and it was a very good response after the Rochdale game.

"We demanded that they put that little bit extra in on Saturday because we owed it to the fans.

"The response of the fans after the game said it all really. They were overjoyed with the performance and it could have been even better had we taken our chances in the first half."

Martin Smith brought an early save from Hereford keeper Wayne Brown, while at the other end Sam Russell was able to deal with Stuart Fleetwood's free-kick with relative ease.

But only the wasteful finishing of Andy Williams spared Joey Hutchinson's blushes in the seventh minute. Hutchinson's attempt to slide the ball clear went horribly wrong, enabling Williams a clear run on goal, but the striker could only drag his shot wide.

Evan Horwood, clearly eager to make an impression on his debut after joining Quakers on loan from Sheffield United, was not afraid to make his mark in the final third as the full-back showed good control and pace to beat his marker, before firing over the bar.

Micky Cummins narrowly directed his brave header wide from Smith's cross and, as a result of a clash of heads, the dazed midfielder was replaced by David Rowson.

The deadlock was finally broken by Armstrong in the 36th minute, thanks to the experience and improvisation of Smith.

The former Sunderland man's touch to nip the ball past Trent McClenahan was sublime and from the resulting low cross, Rowson saw his shot blocked by Brown, leaving an empty net for Armstrong to re-open his goal account for the club.

Quakers should have been two-up shortly after the break when, after a one-two with Smith, Wainwright rounded the keeper only to see his weak effort from a tight angle cleared off the line by Mkandawire.

Hereford were level through Mkandawire in the 71st minute, the skipper glancing home John Eustace's free-kick from the left.

Only the alertness of Russell prevented Quakers from falling behind, as the keeper cautiously tipped over Fleetwood's curling free-kick.

As legs tired late on, the Quakers defence had Russell to thank for saving at the feet of Fleetwood, while Horwood came within inches of marking his debut with a goal.