DESPITE a second-half fightback from Darlington, the Quakers suffered a third straight defeat in National League North with a 2-1 loss to Bradford Park Avenue.

Most of the pre-match chat surrounded what changes would be made, with manager Alun Armstrong indicating that he’ll be wielding the axe to a team which had conceded five goals in the first two games.

But in a surprising turn of events, there was just the one change with George Smith coming into the left-back role as Ben Hedley made way.

Just before kick-off, fans, players and staff observed a touching minute's silence to the 31 former players and club officials who passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The game started with a good tempo and neither side were afraid to lunge in for a challenge. It showed when Will Hatfield was booked for a fourth-minute lunge.

Bradford’s keeper, former Quaker Johnny Saltmer, was called into action on 14 minutes when George Smith’s corner nearly looped kept into the far corner, only for Saltmer to claw the ball over his own crossbar.

Inevitably, it proved very little as it kick-started Darlo’s first-half capitulation. In Bradford Park Avenue’s first real chance, Luke Rawson teased a low cross into the box which Kallum Griffiths attempted to steer the ball away only to turn the ball into his own net to give the away side the lead. It was the worst possible start in the opening 15 minutes of the game.

While there were signs that Darlo could provide a threat going forward as Hatfield tried his luck from inside the box, this time but his drive tested the reflexes of Saltmer who dived to his right. However, they looked anxious and disjointed at the back and there was a sense that another goal could just come out of nothing.

Jake Cassidy was only feeding off scraps in the first 30 minutes but the fans thought he’d found the net when he turned with the ball on the edge of the box and his low drive whistled past the post by a measure of inches.

However, it once again proved to be a minor spring in their step and that second goal did come out of nothing.

As Park Avenue broke up the other end of the pitch, Jordan Windass received the ball from the right and his low cross found an unmarked Rawson who was on hand to tap home. Darlo’s defensive frailties were once again laid bare and there was a genuine worry of what the scoreline could end up being.

Perhaps that was a feeling felt amongst the coaching staff as Armstrong enforced an early change with winger Kevin Dos Santos making way for defender Lexus Beeden shortly after the goal in an attempt to shore things up at the back.

Beeden spared the blushes of the Quakers in stoppage time when a teasing cross found Akeel Francis at the back post only for Darlo’s defender to intervene at the vital moment. The half time whistle blew to a chorus of boos from the home faithful as Darlo stared down the barrel of a third straight defeat.

Darlo needed to changes things and the introduction of Luke Charman bolstered the attack and gave them a new lease of life. Jarrett Rivers found room in the box just minutes after the introduction but his low cross drifted wide of the left hand post just a matter of inches from a player in white. Better from the home side.

It was a sign of pressure to come as Avenue attempted to sit back and see the game out but Darlington were asking plenty of questions in a second half performance that was the complete opposite to the first.

Park Avenue’s resolve broke when Charman made his mark in the 65th minute climbing highest to head home from a Rivers, igniting a huge roar from the home crowd.

As Darlo tried to keep their cool, tempers flared moments later in an off the ball incident between Charman and former Quaker Adam Nowakowski with both players escaping with a yellow card.

The challenges continued to fly in and we were in for a climatic finish to the game at Blackwall Meadows with 15 minutes left on the clock.

The Quakers continued to pile on the pressure and Cassidy thought he’d levelled the game when his header flashed wide from Griffiths cross. From the resulting goal kick, substitute Ollie Johnson broke free from a flick on but his low effort was tame and untroubling.

Moments later, Saltmer produced heroics to keep the away side in front when Charman tested at the angle. He parried the initial show away only for the follow up by Hatfield to be brilliantly denied at close range.

With seven minutes of added time, Darlo huffed and puffed for a late equaliser but in the end, they just ran out of time. While a second half fightback will be a source of encouragement, it doesn’t take away from the result as the Quakers fail to prevent a third consecutive loss.

Darlington: Tommy Taylor; Kallum Griffiths, Brandon Taylor, Alex Storey, George Smith; Alex Purver, Will Hatfield, Joe Wheatley (Luke Charman 45), Jarrett Rivers (Andrew Nelson 66), Kevin Dos Santos (Lexus Beeden 36); Jake Cassidy

Subs not used: Ben Hedley, Junior Mondal

Bradford Park Avenue: Johnny Saltmer, Jordan Windass, Matty Downing, Adam Nowakowski, Gianluca Havern, Mitch Lund, Issac Marriott, Akeel Francis (Ollie Johnson 62'), Luke Rawson (Rob Guilfoyle 90), Lucas Odunston, Nicky Clee (Ryan Toulson 70')

Subs not used: Matt Hill, Ryan Hall