Darlington 2 Alfreton Town 3

Dismal defending led to Darlington starting their delayed season with a thoroughly deserved defeat.

The 3-2 scoreline against Alfreton Town says there was only a goal between the teams, but in reality the visitors at Blackwell Meadows could have been four or five clear at one stage.

They led 2-0 at half-time and 3-0 and soon after the restart, Quakers then showing some belated fight with Will Hatfield pulling two goals back that will not paper over the cracks.

Those cracks appeared right through Darlington’s defence, an area of the team manager Alun Armstrong has desperately tried and failed to strengthen this summer.

Alfreton striker Matt Rhead had a field day. The battering ram was dominant in the air, giving 22-year-old Brandon Taylor a baptism of fire on his Darlington debut.

He was one of six debutants in Quakers’ starting XI for the first time for an occasion that saw fans in attendance at Blackwell for the first time in 532 days.

But there would be no triumphant return. It was 2-0 at the break with Adam Lund and Tom Allan scoring after set-pieces, where Alfreton proved particularly dangerous.

They looked like scoring at every corner, free-kick, corner or long throw, especially in the first half, with Rhead a particular threat against Quakers’ youthful defence.

The first goal came after a free-kick on 28 minutes, Allan retrieving the ball and playing across goal for Lund to stab home.

It was 2-0 after a long throw, Allan rising highest to beat Tommy Taylor with an unchallenged header, and it was almost 3-0 seconds after the restart when Dayle Southwell thundered a shot against the bar.

But the third came on 51 minutes when Allan ran onto a Rhead flick and finished coolly. There’s a chance Allan was offside, but it doesn’t matter, Alfreton deserved to be well clear.

The game was won before the hour mark, but Armstrong had not given up and to their credit neither had the team.

After Kevin Dos Santos showed determination to make something happen, Hatfield showed desire to seize on a loose ball inside the Alfreton penalty area and rammed it home on the hour mark, shortly after Jarrett Rivers and Kallum Griffiths had come off the bench.

Both made an impact, as did first-half substitute Alex Purver, and they are strong contenders to start against Curzon on Monday.

Captain marvel Hatfield added another goal with five minutes to go, smashing home a penalty after Dos Santos was tripped.

It was too little, too late. The damage had been done in the first half.

Darlington (4-4-2): T Taylor; Hedley, B Taylor, Storey, Hope; Mondal, Hatfield, Wheatley, Dos Santos; Charman (Purver 37), Cassidy. Subs not used: Beeden, Rivers, Nelson, Griffiths

Alfreton Town (4-1-2-1-2): Willis; Clockstone, Smith, Allan, Wilde; Lund; Evans, Johnson (Branson 17); Southwell, Rhead, Reeves (Tuton 62). Subs not used: Smith-Eccles, Molyneaux, Wiley