A break in play to allow a goal net to be repaired by two Darlington players was one of the noteworthy moments of the afternoon, and that says much for how unremarkable this FA Cup tie was.

Darlington and Chester replay tomorrow to decide who reaches the third qualifying round, each side having only occasionally threatened to score during Saturday’s drab affair.

At least Darlington did not go two goals down, as they had done in each of their previous two home games and, coming on the back of a midweek win at Brackley and the fightback at Blyth, there are signs of improvement.

This was the team’s first clean sheet of the season, left-back George Smith has his best game so far, on-loan Jake Cooper looks the part at centre-back, Jake Cassidy made his presence felt up front and Luke Charman was not shy of workrate.

There is something to build on in this team; Darlington are a work in progress.

It can only be hoped the same can soon be said of the Blackwell Meadows playing surface.

Darlington host York City this weekend, by which point hopefully the grass has been cut. It was too long on Saturday and the pitch was not fit for purpose.

At Brackley last week, Quakers put in one of the best performances of Alun Armstrong’s tenure on what was a much-improved pitch.

With almost the same starting XI – the only change being the ill Jarrett Rivers replaced by Junior Mondal – Darlington failed to get going against Chester with managers of both sides mentioning its condition afterwards.

Anthony Johnson, joint Chester manager, said: “We changed the style in terms of what we asked the lads to do, especially when we turned up and saw the pitch and he length of it. Obviously it’s a rugby pitch, so I felt sorry for them to be honest.”

Alun Armstrong was understandably furious. The fan-owned club pays landlords Darlington Rugby Club to use the venue, and he said: “I couldn’t believe it when I came in today and saw it. It’s not acceptable.

“The lads couldn’t control the ball, they were taking three touches instead of one because it was getting stuck under their feet constantly.

“Alex Purver is usually very tidy on the ball, so I felt sorry for him because the ball kept getting stuck under him.

“The pitch on Tuesday will hopefully be a lot better and we can play our football and cause them some problems.”

The midweek trek to Brackley may have affected energy levels, and Armstrong added: “Brackley’s pitch is usually a bog, but it looked like they’ve had drainage put in and it helped us massively because the ball was zipping about.

“The lads were a bit drained after Brackley, we didn’t get back until 3am on Wednesday, and the grass is so long here - it hasn’t been touched since Wednesday night.”

Wednesday’s game was the Durham Challenge Cup tie, an 8-2 Quakers win, and another goal frenzy was on the cards when Will Hatfied had the ball in the net early on until a linesman raised his flag.

It was the only time either net was troubled, aside from Tommy Taylor inadvertently pulling it away from the bar when saving a long-range Decan Weeks effort leading to a break in play.

It needed Kallum Griffiths on Jake Cassidy’s shoulders to perform emergency repairs, though they need not have bothered as the nets thereafter were not needed.

The performances of Cooper and Alex Storey reduced George Waring’s impact, Chester’s target man, and while Taylor pushed away a James Hardy header the visitors appeared content to play for a replay.

Armstrong added: “They didn’t cause us any problems with the way they wanted to play, I think we dealt with them well.”

Smith was a regular raider down the left, firing over some dangerous crosses but without anyone on the end of them.

As well as the pitch, referee Paul Brown was also the aim of Armstrong’s ire, the North East whistleblower bringing his familiar puzzling approach to the game.

Asked about neither side having a sustained period of pressure, Armstrong said: “The referee made sure of that, I thought he was absolutely shocking.

“He booked me at the end for telling him that, but something has to change with him because every time he comes here he gets worse and worse.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that.”