PLAYED eight, won one. Three home league games, all of them defeats.

Those are the statistics which make clear how poor a start to the season Darlington have had, with Quakers sinking to their latest loss on Saturday.

Clayton Donaldson’s double meant York City became the fifth side to defeat Darlington, who are now 17th and in the doldrums.

Next up is 18th-placed Telford at home this weekend, a must-win match to ease some of the mounting concern.

Performances have generally been better than the league position suggests, and mitigating circumstances have contributed, notably Covid causing havoc; players unable to train or gain match fitness handicapped Darlington from the beginning.

They were also handicapped by Alun Armstrong being unable to bring in an adequate centre-back until Jake Cooper’s arrival four games into the season.

He had slotted in seamlessly. Sod’s law that it was Cooper who was red-carded on Saturday, another mitigating factor and a moment that undeniably helped York.

While complaints about referees inevitably sound like sour grapes after a defeat, Richard Aspinall was bound to attract moans as a consequence of some odd decisions.

Armstrong offered a blunt assessment in the ref’s changing room at half-time, and it led to the manager being red-carded too.

He was furious after watching York twice benefit from Aspinall’s interventions, the other occasion was awarding York a penalty.

“Jake’s red card was a disgraceful decision, in my opinion, and that wasn’t the only one in the game,” fumed Armstrong. “It’s two weeks running now that we’ve had referees spoil the game.

“I was patient. I waited until half-time and I waited outside his room as you’re meant to. I asked why it was a sending off, I asked why he didn’t give a foul on Will Hatfield, because York then broke and got the penalty, and how that’s a penalty I’ll never know.

“I told him it was a disgrace, so then he sends me off when I was in his room, which I didn’t realise he could do. He still never answered the questions.”

The two York goals and the red card came within 11 mad minutes that were out of keeping with an otherwise even contest between two ordinary teams.

York squeezed ahead from a set-piece on 23 minutes, Donaldson converting when on his backside in a goalmouth scramble after a corner.

Then came Cooper’s red after colliding with Ollie Dyson near the touchline, the nimble-footed playmaker helping the referee make a decision by rolling around as though a sniper had got him.

A red card was simply not on the agenda. York fans were not demanding it as football fans usually do when suspecting an opposition player may have gone too far. While minutes earlier Joe Wheatley had committed a worse challenge and been booked.

“It’s a booking at the most,” added Armstrong. “It’s nothing malicious, he’s just getting his leg across. But you could tell the ref got it wrong by everyone’s reaction, even the York fans, nobody expected it.

“He gave some decisions that made people laugh, it got to that stage. People’s livelihoods at stake here not just mine.”

It was a relief, despite limping away with a limp so severe one might have suspected he was the survivor of a shark attack, Dyson was able to manfully soldier on and complete the match.

Down to ten and without their most commanding centre-back, Quakers were in trouble, certainly so when Mark Beck used his nous to win a penalty.

The ex-Quaker backed into Alex Purver to draw a foul, a classic striker’s trick and one that the referee fell for.

Donaldson scored from the spot, leaving Darlington 2-0 down at half-time for the third time in as many home league games this season.

As on each of the two previous occasions, they showed some fight and had a decent second half.

They had hope when Charman pulled one back on the hour – his tenth goal in 22 appearances. It was a close-range finish after Cassidy held the ball up following Smith’s throw in.

With Armstrong watching from the Blackwell balcony, Quakers sent on Darlington-born striker James Beauchamp for his debut as well as Jack Lambert, but they were unable to make an impact. Goalkeeper Peter Jameson, another ex-Quaker, was largely untroubled, while at the other end Donaldson would have scored another two or three if he had more composure in front of goal.

Armstrong added: “There’s something there but it’s not clicking, we’re not getting the rub of the green. People say you make your own luck, but the lads deserved more. They worked their socks off, but we were done by an official deciding he wanted it to be all about him.”