A pointless Easter effectively ended Darlington’s play-off hopes, though not if you ask Alun Armstrong.

Last weekend’s defeats to Curzon Ashton and Gateshead saw Quakers slide to 11th, four points adrift of the play-off places.

They are at home to clean sheet kings Brackley Town on Saturday, who are second in the table but smarting from losing for only the fourth time this season on Monday – Darlington inflicted their first defeat in September.

“We’ve still got work to do because you never know, football is a funny old game,” said an optimistic Armstrong.

“Brackley will not be relishing playing us after what we did to them down at their place.

“The result was a killer on Monday at Gateshead, but other results didn’t all go against us so we’re still in touch. The longer we’re in touch, at least the games have got something on them.

“I’ve been involved in games with an end of season feel and there’s nothing worse. We want to stay in the pack for as long as we can.”

Brackley have conceded only 20 goals in their 38 league games, keeping 25 clean sheets.

On Monday, Boston became the first team to score against them in two league matches this season, and Darlington can become the second after putting three past them on a midweek evening seven months ago.

Armstrong added: “If you let them get a goal they are then difficult to break down, so we’ve got to make sure we start bright and lively, put them on the back foot like we did at their place.

“They are well-organised and defend deep so it’s difficult to get in behind them.

“I might not want to pay to watch them, but you’ve got to give the manager, Kevin Wilkin, credit because that’s unbelievable, to concede so few goals.

“I’ve been a fan of Gaz Dean, the centre-half, ever since I’ve been at this level. He’s an organiser, he knows the level inside out and is one of the best defenders in the league.

“He never shuts up, he’s one of those that have been with the club a while, and this year they’ve found a formula that is stopping them conceding goals.”

Quakers looked to have done something similar, conceding only once in four fixtures, before an insipid performance led to a 2-0 loss to Curzon on Good Friday.

They followed that by losing 4-2 at Gateshead on Monday, when Alex Storey replacing the injured David Wheater with Darlington 2-0 up signalled a change in the standard of the team’s defending.

Armstrong had been reluctant to field Danny Ellis, explaining: “Danny was struggling on Sunday, Friday’s game had wiped him out after his bout of Covid. We put him on the bench on Monday just in case, and in the last few minutes we had to go for a back three. He’s feeling a lot better now.”

Wheater went off with a groin strain, and Armstrong added: “It’s a shame because we look a different team when him and Jake Lawlor are at the back, we look so solid. I was never nervous for the first hour at Gateshead, but that will have given them a massive lift when Wheater went off.”

Jarrett Rivers and Jake Cassidy were both unavailable on Monday due to Covid, Tyrone O’Neill has a thigh problem but Cameron Thompson trained on Thursday having sat out the match on Monday due to a hamstring issue.