FC United of Manchester 1 Darlington 2

DARLINGTON are now safe from relegation after winning 2-1 at FC United of Manchester.

Victory means Quakers can no longer be sucked into the bottom three, and can complete their final four fixtures without any relegation worries.

There was a bit of fortune involved in the winning goal scored by Reece Styche, which involved a huge goalkeeping error, but Darlington deserved the points for a strong first-half display.

They were in control for large parts of the half, yet were unable to put the game to bed following a string of missed chances.

It mattered little as ultimately Tommy Wright’s men came out on top, against a team that had lost just one of their previous 13 home league games.

There was little to report in the early stages, each team deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation and working each out, though Darlington did get forward with an almost inch perfect Josh Gillies pass ahead of Dave Syers, intercepted by Jordan Fagbola.

The first chance fell to Reece Styche, who was one-on-one with after a Syers pass, but the striker’s shot was saved by the onrushing keeper Lloyd Allinson.

The effort was the first of many in a first half Quakers would go on to control for the most part.

Another Darlington shot came from near the corner of the penalty area by Joe Wheatley, though it was saved easily enough.

At this stage, midway through the half, United were yet to seriously trouble Quakers, aside from Steve Irwin putting a long-range free-kick into Aynsley Pears’ midriff.

Darlington took the lead they deserved on 26 minutes. After right-back Luke Trotman, recalled following injury, played the ball back to Stephen Thompson, who clipped it in and Gillies was on hand to head home at close-range.

The goal should have opened the floodgates as Quakers created a series of chances.

It was almost 2-0 when Styche had a shot blocked after a corner, and Josh Heaton was first to the loose ball but his scrambled effort was saved by the keeper.

The corner had been won after a Ben O’Hanlon delivery following a superb raking cross-field pass by Heaton.

Styche then missed a sitter. With only the goalkeeper to beat he hit a shot straight at the No. 1, and then yet another opportunity went begging.

Quakers countered after a United corner, Syers played the ball ahead of Styche who then played it across to the unmarked Gillies, but the pass was not accurate enough, the ball rolling too far away to get a toe on it.

A save by Allinson stopped Thompson’s rising shot from 20 yards, at which point Quakers will have been wondering if they would regret not making the most of their opportunities.

And so it proved as, almost inevitably Darlington paid the price for their prolificacy, when FC United’s Scott Kay scored at close-range following a corner in the final minute of the half.

Darlington should have been out of sight, but instead it was 1-1 at the break.

Quakers were unable to work up the same head of steam in the second period, but they were still able carve open the opposition at times.

When moment saw good play on the edge of the penalty area by Phil Turnbull, Trotman and Gillies leading to Thompson playing in Wheatley, who tried an audacious volley on the turn, but the effort was wayward and it went out for a throw-in.

Darlington did score again, however, on 65 minutes, with Styche the beneficiary of a misjudgement by Allinson.

Thompson, who minutes earlier had been booed by a section of FC United fans, played a precise ball over the top, goalkeeper Allinson completely mistimed his run outside the penalty area and Styche read the bounce and was able to tap the ball into an empty net.

The goal was his 22nd of the season, and put Quakers into a 2-1 lead having not scored in any of their three previous away matches.

Syers put the ball into the side-netting after a Thompson through-ball, and Sam Tattum did likewise at the other end as the hosts looked for an equaliser.

Wheatley hit the post on the volley after a Gillies corner, but Darlington closed the game out reasonably comfortably aside from in the first minute of added time when United substitute Tom Greaves wasted a great chance.

The striker put a free header over the bar following a free-kick, a huge let off for Darlington who were soon able to celebrate an important win.

Goals: Gillies (26, 0-1); Kay (45, 1-1), Styche (65, 1-2)

Bookings: O’Hanlon (44, foul), Wheatley (87, foul), Turnbull (90, dissent); McCarthy (90, foul)

Referee: Ricky Wooton

Attendance: 2,269

FC United (4-2-3-1): Allinson, Senior, Fagbola, Baird, Higham; Kay, Irwin (Simoes 85); Tattum (Greaves 72), Glynn, Lindfield; McCarthy. Subs (not used): Racchi, Gichrist, Basso

Darlington (4-2-3-1): Pears; Trotman (Portas 59), Heaton, Galbraith, O’Hanlon; Turnbull, Wheatley; Thompson, Syers, Gillies (Collins 90); Styche (Saunders 85). Subs (not used): Bancroft (gk), Caton