AFTER Darlington’s strong run of form over the last few months has seen them turn into National League play-off contenders, they’ve now been left with a mountainous task to reach the top seven after surrendering a two goal lead against table topping Gateshead to lose their second game of the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend.

In an entertaining North-East affair, it was attack vs defence for large parts and Darlington just gave themselves too much time to protect their lead against a Gateshead side who looked destined to climb into the fifth tier of English football.

A strong Darlington following made the relatively short trip up the A19 and were treat to a stunning opening goal to the game. The Quakers had a free-kick to range where everyone in the ground expected the ball to be floated into the area. Everyone besides debutant Nathan Lowe. The midfielder spotted Heed keeper Filip Marschall off his line anticipating a cross into the box and whipped a delightful 35 yard strike that bent over the keeper and into the top left hand corner. What a way to announce yourself to your new team mates.

Opportunity struck once again when Jack Lambert drifted his way into the box and was clipped by Robbie Tinkler. Referee Paul Brown correctly pointed to the dreaded penalty spot which has been such a menace to the Quakers in recent weeks. But this time, there was to be no such disappointment as Lambert stepped up and stroked the ball home to score their first penalty out of five. A surging start for the away side who were well and truly upsetting the odds.

Gateshead were under serious threat of letting slip their position at the top of National League North but started to show glimpses of why they were leading the way as Macauley Longstaff tried to finish off a slick passing move but his shot inside the box as well held by Tommy Taylor.

But Darlington were not to be deterred by a side who had scored over 100 times in the league this season as they went in search of a third. Junior Mondal, who was parachuted into the starting eleven after injury in the warm up, latched onto the end of a through ball but saw his low strike kept out by the feet of Marschall.

Mondal was inches from adding a third to an unsettled Gateshead side when Kevin Dos Santos jinked his way down the right and whipped an inviting ball into area that just evaded the striker’s toes.

Alun Armstrong’s side eased off and Gateshead piled the pressure on before the end of the first half. The travelling side managed to restrict them to a couple of blocked shots and handball appeals but the Quakers were hoping their early days work was going to be enough for them to see them across the line with their play-off hopes on the line.

Into another 45 minutes of big football and cue the onslaught as the home side found their way back into the game.

They forced the issue when Robbie Tinkler picked up a space from the right and whipped an inviting ball into the box. Longstaff, who is usually potent in front of goal, saw his head fly into the hands of Taylor.

A wave of white shirts was met by a wall of orange as the second period wore on. The Quakers rearguard had their experienced figurehead David Wheater withdrawn due to injury. That may well have been the deciding factor as it coincided with the Heed’s first goal of the game. Greg Olley and Cedwyn Scott combined with a one two to slice open the Quakers defence as Olley latched on to slide the ball under Taylor and pull a goal back just after the hourmark.

The majority of Gateshead’s passing play as smooth and well orchestrated but their equalising goal was far from it as they found a way through the most conventional route. Olley returned a long header back into Darlington’s defensive third but freed up the run of Longstaff. All the striker had to do was get a toe on the ball ahead of Taylor and watched the equaliser roll home.

Armstrong threw an extra defender in Danny Ellis onto the pitch to help protect what would have been a valuable point. But the Gateshead continued wave after wave of attack. Cedwyn Scott rolled substitute Ellis in the area and fired on goal only to see Taylor block the effort.

But the resilience only lasted for so long when they were found out by another route one goal around 15 minutes from time. Matty Jacob went long in behind and Longstaff got the right side of defender Alex Storey. After shirking off his marker, he brought the ball under his touch and stroked home under Taylor to complete a thrilling comeback.

The away side were out on their feet and tired legs had got the better of them after consistent attacks. Insult to injury was added when Middlesbrough loanee Connor Malley was released in behind the defence and, once again, Taylor was beaten with another tidy finish inside the box.

The Heed’s march to the National League continued while Darlington, who had such a position of power in the game, suffered a damaging blow to their hopes of reaching the play-offs.

DARLO XI: 1 Tommy Taylor, 7 Ben Hedley, 10 Junior Mondal, 16 Adriano Moke, 17 Jack Lambert, 19 Kevin Dos Santos, 20 Jake Lawlor, 23 Alex Purver, 26 Kallum Griffiths, 31 David Wheater, 45 Nathan Lowe

Subs: 3 George Smith, 6 Alex Storey, 10 Junior Mondal, 12 Danny Ellis, 29 Dominic McHale, Lucas Martin

GATESHEAD XI: 1 Filip Marschall, 3 Robbie Tinkler, 6 Mike Willamson, 14 Louis Storey, 25 Taylor Charters, 20 Owen Bailey, 12 Dan Ward, 11 Adam Campbell, 7 Macauley Longstaff, 19 Cedwyn Scott

Subs: 4 Jack Hunter, 24 Matty Jacob, 32 Carl Magnay, 28 Connor Malley, 40, James Montgomery