Tag Archives: Darlington

Winners and Losers

My wife doesn’t get drawn games. It’s just a complete anathema in her culture for a sporting event to end in a tie. Thus, upon being informed our Dons have drawn, she tells me that ‘both sides lost’. In a way, of course, she is correct. Three points were up for grabs, yet only two awarded. The only practical winners following our goalless draw in the North-East were Crawley Town. Yet in a more detailed sense, her opinion is hopelessly naive. There is a reason in our sport why even her own country’s domestic league stopped using shootouts to decide drawn games following massive public opposition. Football is a simple game in most respects, you either win or you lose. It’s when you draw it gets complicated… I mean was yesterday a point gained or two points dropped?

I suppose the answer to that question depends on your philosophical outlook on life… is the glass half full or half empty? Yet tied games like this often, like Schrödinger’s cat, have the ability to simultaneously be a positive and negative experience. From one perspective earning a point at playoff chasing Darlington is a decent result, on a solid surface against a robust ex-League outfit, and its great to see the Dons picking up points from games we would have lost a few months earlier. Yet on the other hand, you get the impression that Crawley would have found that moment of quality to break the deadlock in a game like this. Despite the brilliant season we are having you start to get the feeling we simply won’t be able to compete with their superior resources despite our own January recruitment drive, and that we are destined to scrap with Luton for second – itself a ridiculously difficult proposition. Crawley have raised the bar to the point even a decent result such as yesterday isn’t enough.

As you might have gathered, the game itself was junk, I’m having to improvise. Aside from a Danny Kedwell/Sammy Moore (delete as appropriate – I was too far away to tell) effort late in the first half I can’t remember a moment when I really thought we would score. We just didn’t seem to have the incision to make the breakthrough. Of course, the same could be said for Darlington, and I believe that could have had something to do with the state of the playing surface. From a distance it looked the sort of pitch the Dons would excel on; bowling green flat and in perfect condition, the problem was it seemed to be frozen solid in certain areas. The near side touchline was a joke, pools of frozen water stood just off the playing surface. The conditions being the same for both sides I can understand why the game went ahead, especially as I had been on a coach for nearing five hours by the time the inspection took place and my backside was already screaming for mercy. I would imagine if the conditions were replicated at a fixture involving two sides local to each other, or we hadn’t suffered the misfortune of having most of December wiped out by the weather, this game would probably have fallen foul of the icy conditions.

No first visit to Darlington could go without commenting on their new stadium. I have to say if you didn’t go, and you’ve already visited the new efforts built by Middlesbrough, Derby, Southampton, Reading, et al, you haven’t missed anything you wouldn’t have seen before elsewhere. Yet all of those stadiums, besides being architecturally similar, are always impressive to visit. Some mentioned how surreal it felt among 2000 hardy souls in an arena designed to hold over ten times that amount, personally I’m waiting until a shower of frogs fall from the sky mid-game – that really would be surreal. Nevertheless it’s certainly novel… anyone who has ever seen a reserve game or FA Youth Cup game at a large stadium, or even watched a Dons game in the early rounds of the League cup back in the day. I suppose any lurking MK scumbags will be able to understand the feeling of regularly playing in a stadium that is way too big for them.

As you can imagine the largely unused seats were displaying the sort of dirt you would expect given the lack of backsides giving them a regular polish. Not that most Dons fans bothered using them of course, not that the stewards were that bothered, until an impromptu disco took place in the aisles when they were forced to earn their money and shepherd those involved back to their seats. Another feature of the stadium were the stewards – there were dozens of them, far more than you would see at a regular Conference fixture, from the team who shepherded the coach in, to those responsible showing us to the seating area, to the well staffed control room above us, we almost had a steward each. Without wanting to delve too greatly into another teams finances you have to worry about the money Darlo fritter away forced to staff such an arena, and unless they can find a way of downsizing you fear for their ability to challenge in this division.

On to what could be gathered from the game itself, well let’s get the negatives out of the way first. TB has made no secret of his desire to get a new left back in, if only as cover. With Andre Blackman suffering unspecified fitness issues, Chris Bush, himself only on work experience from Brentford, has no competition for the shirt. The problem is while Bush occasionally shows glimpses of the brilliant player he will undoubtedly become, he is prone to putting in the sort of poor performance that marks him out as our weak link. I wouldn’t have a problem persisting with him if he was our player, as far as I’m concerned the sooner Andre makes it back into the side the better, as if we are going to persist on fielding a youngster who regularly misplaces passes and finds himself caught out of position frequently, it may as well be one that’s under contract for us to reap the benefits if they turn out to be a prospect. Beyond that, a few of the team still seemed to be suffering the after effects of the flu virus that has swept the squad. Kirk Hudson has only been with us for ten days and has already fallen foul of it…

As for the positives, well it reinforced in my mind what a wonderful young goalkeeper we have. He didn’t have a lot to do, but came and claimed just about every high ball Darlo tossed into our box. A few months ago he would have punched some of those, but with confidence flowing he looked unbeatable even when called upon to make couple of good stops on the rare occasions the hosts broke through what was a pretty solid backline. A lot of the credit for that has to go to the highlight of the afternoon, the debut performance of Jamie Stuart. He really was solid, made everything that came near him his own, and seemed to strike up a pretty decent understanding with Fraser Franks (who also stood out for the Dons).

The midfield didn’t really show the sort of cohesion that won us points over Xmas, yet James Mulley was a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating afternoon in the middle of the park. Mulley had probably the best Dons chance with the exception of the Kedwell/Moore effort, when he showed great composure in the box to wriggle past two men only to slightly over hit the ball and see the goalkeeper reach it first when a better touch would have left the goal at his mercy. I remember being a little underwhelmed upon finding out Mulley was released by Hayes earlier in the season, but it seems Hayes loss could definitely be our gain. Brown had a decent look at him as he trained with the squad for a couple of weeks and obviously liked what he saw, signing him up on non-contract terms, giving Mulley the chance to play his way into a deal.

Attacking-wise we didn’t seem to have the potency that has seen us hit the net three times in each of our last five games, in icy conditions such as those I would always favour big tough centre halves to come out on top of our young forward line, although the captain put himself about as you would expect. In the first half Kedwell found himself isolated on a Darlington pitch which lets just say is a little bit larger than Kingsmeadow and didn’t favour wide players who like to stick to the flanks. Young Jolley and Jackson were sacrificed at the break as the Dons switched again to 442, although the Dons looked slightly more potent than during the first period the tactical change failed to work on this occasion.

This wasn’t due to any lack of effort from Mark Nwokeji however, I still can’t get over how he manages to beat guys in the air who have a clear foot in height advantage over him. Of course if Jon Main had shown any kind of form or confidence this tactical switch would have worked in his favour, and Nwokeji finds himself a clear pick when Kedwell needs a partner. Now it seems he is finally injury free and has started to score goal I expect Nokkers to play a big role during the next few months or so. The deal to bring Danny Hylton in from Aldershot appears to be dead although there still remains to be seen whether Brown has any other striking targets. If someone is brought in I would expect to see Jon Main leave, at least on loan, before January is out. It will be in the best interests of both club and player, Main has served us well over the past couple of years yet is caught in a rut at the moment. He needs game time, he isn’t going to get it at AFCW any time soon except for the odd county cup game. Lets face it, I’m sure we all dream of Jon Main finding his scoring boots and grabbing the goals that take us back to the Football League, but the time has come to accept that probably isn’t going to happen, and its time to let someone who was an important part of our recent history find the chance elsewhere to rebuild his career.

To sum up, and answer the question I originally posed, as I see it this was more a point gained than two lost. The last time I saw a performance as disjointed as that we lost to Rushden on a night we couldn’t blame the conditions, and I believe Darlington are a far better side than they are. Following on from our comeback at Newport we are picking up points here and there in games we would have lost a few months ago. It’s frustrating we end up in a division where one of our rivals is able to reinforce at will, and with the games we have in hand I fear we could see a similar situation to our first season where Withdean 2000 eventually hauled themselves into an unassailable lead. Wednesday is a big game for so many reason, a win could reinvigorate all of us and ensure we are in the title race for the long run, a defeat and we will find it difficult to even retain parity with Luton.

As for me, I now face the unenviable task of trying to explain once more the concept of a ‘six pointer’. She didn’t get it when we played Hampton, and I’m sure she won’t get it now…

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Misery (AFC Wimbledon 0 Darlington 2)

It’s not quite Halloween yet, but its close enough to expect a variety of puns from the mainstream Dons press after this performance, along the lines of it being a ‘Horror Performance’ where Darlington put ‘The Frighteners’ up the Dons before ‘Dumping Their Badly Mutilated Corpse On The Bank Of The Hogsmill’… The Dons weren’t beaten up in that manner by the visitors really, and were largely the creators of their own downfall. Oh, along with the pumpkin-headed clown in black, of course.

Such a clumsy introduction but not a million miles from the truth. There were rumours the ref was spotted in the car park before the game colouring in the white sections of his Darlington shirt with black marker pen before he could pass as a genuine official. Last week, Darlington were involved in a game where three members of the opposition were given their marching orders, to the point the local PA guy felt the need to berate him mid-action for ruining the game as a spectacle. If only we had such an enlightened announcer down at Kingsmeadow!

It’s certainly enough to get the conspiracy theorists among us wondering whether Darlington are intercepting the real match officials pre-game in order to plant their own ringer. Not a bad idea, if you ask me – we should create a working group post-haste in order to investigate the possibility of employing such a dastardly scheme ourselves (although the last time one of ‘us’ took over, albeit the line at Eastleigh a couple of years ago, it didn’t do us much good…).

Only joking of course, and apologies to Darlington for even suggesting there may have been some element of corruption behind their victory – but we have to find humour in defeat where ever we can. In fact the referee deserves credit for not allowing those dark glasses and stick to impede his movement around the pitch. Plus it must have been hard growing up without a father. And I hear he is highly regarded down at his local chapter of the Man/Boy Love Association. Et cetera, ad nauseam…

Moving on (briefly, I’ll undoubtedly refer back to the penis-lookalike in black later in the report), the ball isn’t really running for the Dons at the moment, is it? First Gateshead, where we were fortunate to rely on a set piece to break down awkward opponents. Then Basingstoke where a bunch of BSS part-timers almost took us to a replay before fitness, and another set piece, won us through. Todays game reminded me very much of the Forest Green game, unfortunately on this occasion there was no moment of magic to grab us a point…

We have to face the fact that, right now, we are at the base of a trough performance-wise. Plotting an imaginary graph in my head, I predict we will see at least a couple more mini-slumps before the season is out. Although the Inconsistencies Of Youth (which will probably turn out to be the title of our end-of-season DVD…) means this can’t be relied upon as an accurate indicator of future performance – we could quite easily demolish Ebbsfleet next week going unbeaten until Christmas (still some way off despite what the commercials on tv might have you believe…). More worrying is we are just as likely to be equally as crap as we were today until the end of the campaign.

We started well enough today, without creating any clear-cut chances. Unfortunately the visitors caught us with a goal after fifteen minutes, Chris Senior being gifted enough space to squirm the ball under Sebb Brown whilst being given the freedom of the penalty area by his obliging hosts. You have to bear in mind I was in the KRE and at pitch level, so when I say there was a suspicion of offside about the goal I’m merely voicing the opinion of others. I have no reason to doubt them, they were closer to the action than I was, and I await AFCWTV for some conclusive proof… awww, who am I kidding? I went through ninety minutes of frustration watching at the ground, I’m not going to waste another five minutes of my life browsing through the highlights.

If Senior was offside, it might explain why we was given so much room. He’s certainly what my dear departed gran would have referred to as ‘a tricky little cunt’, not someone who will cause you problems physically, possessing a frame that makes the likes of Ivor Heller realise he could have been a contender. But he knows where the goal is, that’s for damn certain, and we left him alone at our peril. If he wasn’t, fair enough, we were wronged, but those with a long memory will remember I defended the decision not to send Sebb Brown off for bringing Senior down during last years FA Trophy replay at home to Altrincham by suggesting Senior was ‘at least two yards offside’… then having to backtrack two days later upon being presented video evidence to the contrary. So I’m not touching this one…

Darlington were presented with a free kick shortly after, within shooting range and in an area that would have been regarded as dangerous… Had the visitors not completely screwed up what should have been a simple lay-off, allowing Danny Kedwell ample time to break from the wall and rob his dozy opponent. Yet somehow the referee saw this as a foul. If so he was the only person in the ground who did. At this stage, with angry Dons players bearing down on him and the crowd up in arms, he might have realised he had made a teeny tiny error. If he did, he obviously decided to just go along with it, and decided to stamp his authority by booking Kedwell. To paraphrase the gentleman a few yards down from me, he truly was a copulating visually impaired lady part…

As the half wore on, the Dons looked more like equalizing, without ever really testing the opposition. This was mainly down to first Sammy Moore, then Steven Gregory failing to take decent chances when presented them. It seems as though the Dons squad are putting on a production of The Nutcracker for the Christmas party, both Moore and Gregory are competing for the role of Sugar Plum Fairy, and each decided to encorporate elements of their audition while attempting to finish when well placed. Sadly. football and festive two-act ballet does not mix, a lesson both of them have now learned the hard way…

Sadly the Dons couldn’t immediately replicate the pressure they built at the end of the previous half as the second kicked off. Darlington actually looked pretty comfortable at this point, enough to bring on the man who has made a career at this level out of doing little more than backing in and getting the ball caught under his feet – Jefferson Louis. Immediately after the referee gave his next joke call of the afternoon, gifting the visitors a penalty for holding by Yakubu. No Darlington player thought to appeal, except one who started hurling abuse towards the referee, until he realised it wasn’t a Dons free kick, it was a penalty, and promptly decided to keep his mough shut.

Now Louis has a bit of previous with the Dons, as we remember him from last season where it turned out he wasn’t quite good enough to make the grade at a pre-moneyed Crawley. Presumably he was up all night working on his celebrations should he score, judging by the way he grabbed the ball before the penalty. Perhaps he thought a little too much though, as his sidefooted effort was a little too casual and Sebb Brown got down easily to block. Unfortunately it squirmed away from Brown, and with the Dons players flat footed Marc Bridge-Wilkinson slammed the rebound into the roof of the net.

The Dons were now stuck deep in a hole they didn’t look capable of digging themselves out of. They huffed and puffed throughout the remainder of the half, but it was the visitors who came closest to scoring late in the game when Brown pushed a header onto the bar. The home sides best chance of getting back into it revolved around a couple of ‘what might have been’ efforts – Jolley smashing into the side netting with team mates well positioned, and Sam Hatton tripped in the area and punished by – guess who – the referee, his crime being he tried to stay on his feet. How stupid of us! We failed to realise stonewall penalties are only given when players hurl themselves onto the deck these days.

Much as in the first half, Wimbledon looked more likely to score the longer the half went on, which was ironic in that the later they would have scored, the more meaningless it would have been. They failed to even pull one back in the end, which just made the news that Crawley had won 4-1 at Mansfield even more crushing. Days like today makes you wonder how we can possible challenge for the title come April…

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Frustrations Of Youth (Darlington Preview)

As the mundanity of a football-free week comes to an end, the FA Cup makes way for the bread and butter of league football – albeit temporarily – as Darlington come down to the Meadow attempting to knock us off our perch. After last weeks disjointed performance at Basingstoke I’m not sure anyone would have minded too much if we had been taken back for a replay at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday in order to blow away a few cobwebs… well, maybe we would have minded if we ended up losing it, which taking the performance in the first game into account was probably quite likely…

Its been a tough week for the football community, what with the death of Paul the Octopus and all. Whats really been keeping me up at night is did he see it coming? If so how frustrating must his final few months have been, desperate to tell his captors of his impending demise by shuffling himself into various boxes… boxes for fuck sake! If ever an animal was trying to give us a message it was this, and we mistook it for some kind of score prediction service…

Meanwhile, back in the real world, some people are having difficulty determining what happened in the past let alone the future, judging by this article. Presumably the definition of the word ‘legal’ differs in Darlington from that used at Companies House, or indeed Soho Square. I’m sure most Dons fans will sigh and move on when faced with such inaccuracies, but I still get angry… stuff like this is going to follow us around for years to come. Ultimately though, you really don’t expect that kind of inflammatory article popping up on the website of a fellow Conference club, mere days before they visit for an important League game… I mean, do they not like warm welcomes or what?!!

Most of the ‘facts’ on offer seem to have come via Darren Holloway, which is annoying, because although sometimes it seems as though footballers are Professional Thick Bastards just doing what their agents tell them and following the money, not all of them are like that… not by a long shot. The behaviour of WFC players at the time and since have gone a long way towards showing us that. But for every Neal Ardley there seems to be a Holloway, for every Kevin Cooper The First there is a Dean Holdsworth… Kudos also needs to go to the ‘journalist’ who went to the trouble of checking the facts before sticking the story online… oh, no wait, he didn’t bother. In that case I won’t bother checking to see if he is indeed a boneheaded lazy sister-fucker before I brand him as such on this esteemed bloggy-type thing…

On to the football, and the Dons will once again look towards the combined talents of Ed Harris and Fraser Franks should Yakubu fail to overcome a niggly shoulder injury. As Yakubu looks like the sort of bloke who walks through barn doors without bothering opening them first you sometimes forget he does occasionally hurt himself, and would be a big miss despite the fantastic form of the younger partnership in key games earlier in the campaign.

One big decision Brown has to make is whether to go for continuity and include Andre Blackman in the lineup or revert to Chris Bush, banished from playing in cup games in case Brentford need to call him up later in the season. Bush will be absent next week which is a huge tick in the Blackman box, but… I’m probably Andre’s biggest fan with the possible exception of his mum, but he didn’t quite do enough last week, did he? To be fair, no-one was good enough at Basingstoke, which was a really bizarre performance in that despite individually being a pile of steaming cattle dung we still came away with a result. Yet Andre would have finished the game had he not picked up an injury, which explains his bench belting routine upon leaving the field – in one moment showing more passion in than the rest of the team combined over the course of the entire day (although I’m fairly sure I saw Sam Hatton clench his fist at one point). Another tick in the Andre box…

Further up the field and it looks as though it will be same again for the front three. The two wide boys are doing well, especially Jackson, but in the last couple of games top scorer and chief goal creator Danny Kedwell has displayed the sort of touch that makes Ivan Klasnic look like a tender lover in comparison. However, if there is one player who you can rely on to come back stronger than ever its the captain, and it’s not as if there are options on the bench. Jon Main just can’t seem to catch a break at the moment after pondering whether he should leave the club on loan earlier in the week, which is probably still a step ahead of Mark Nwokeji, who appears certain to head out on loan whenever we can find another Conference club willing to spend a month or so getting him fit enough to play for us.

Luke Moore has emerged as the leading contender to fill in the forward line where required, but he is being touted to take over Ricky Wellard’s midfield position after the youngsters (hang on… they’re all young…) obvious concentration issues blighted his last few performances. Wellard is the epitome of the frustrations of youth, ghosting past men and playing the sort of killer through ball the average player just isn’t capable of one moment, drifting out of position or gifting possession cheaply the next – very often in the same game, occasionally even in the same passage of play. You get the impression if he can make it past these teething troubles he will be a fixture in the Dons midfield for the best part of the next decade, so long as he isn’t Husseyed away from us in the meantime. Another contender for the midfield position is Rashid Yussuff, the Zidane of the Conference – but only when he is introduced to the action from the substitutes bench… when given a start he may as well come and join us in the stands for all the impact he makes.

Darlington will put up a decent fight, albeit in the same manner as Forest Green or Histon did. Don’t get me wrong, their average supporter is slightly more clued up than the turnip who defecated out that interview with Holloway, these are supporters who have seen the sharp end of footballs stick bear down on their exposed backsides, almost, almost reaching the stage where mismanagement and downright hard luck lead to them exploring the option of creating their own club. Stuck out-of-town in a vast arena (I’m not describing it as soulless just yet as I won’t be visiting until January, although many more have done), it doesn’t exactly encourage the walk-up fan… lets not discount the impact that having many thousands of people living within a twenty-minute walk of Kingsmeadow has had on our attendances. I consider Darlington to be every bit as big a club as the Dons, perhaps more so – we have no idea what effect a consistent period of mundane mid-table action would have on our attendances, and Darlington’s location has effectively turned them into a big club without the big crowds to back them up.

I saw some photographs of Feethams about six months ago which seemed to suggest there is a lot of it still standing, which must rankle with Darlington supporters who I presume miss the place a great deal. I was having a conversation with a fellow Don during the Basingstoke game relating to the toilet facilities serving the West Bank, specifically their ability to turn day into night and pre-match burgers into chunder. No matter how sanitized and clean new stadiums are, they are also increasingly mundane, shiny symbols of footballs lost soul, especially the ones where thousands of empty gleaming seats stare back at you, one final taunt at misplaced ambition.

The Anonymous Don line-up guestimate – Brown; Hatton, Yakubu, Harris, Bush; Gregory, Moore (S), Moore (L); Jackson, Kedwell, Jolley

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New Arrivals

The last day of the League 2 season brings confirmation of two new teams joining us down in the Conference National. While we knew we had a trip to the Darlington Arena lined up for next term, today the final day showdown involving Grimsby and Barnet went the way of the Hertfordshire side – which was written in stone from the moment Grimsby fans invaded the pitch last week at the end of the big showdown between the two, taunting the Barnet fans… presumably those Grimsby fans who pray at the altar of the Football Gods were tearing their hair out.

And sure enough they fell apart at the Pirelli Stadium this afternoon, a 0-3 defeat that its fair to say a small minority of the visiting supporters took with all the good grace of a Luton Town fan that had money on Esther Rantzen making it to Parliament. Much as Grimsby may bring a larger support into the division than Stevenage Borough had, I doubt they will be challenging at the right end of the table next term. With the Dons and even last day survivors Gateshead turning pro for next season, just being professional doesn’t automatically give the advantage it did even a few years ago, and I would imagine the Mariners will look to rebuild next term.

As for Darlington, well their crowds have shrunk to almost BSN levels as the inevitability of demotion has struck, and you have to question the logic of them even remaining full-time while stuck at a white elephant stadium miles out-of-town. After this image was featured over on Pitch Invasion earlier in the week, you wonder about the practicalities of bringing the team back into town, and maybe that will be the Quakers only hope of a return to the Football League with no scope for development at the Arena to bring in extra income.

Another two clubs will be added to the line-up tomorrow, this time coming up rather than going down. Fleetwood and Alfreton face off in the BSN play-off final, while Bath City and Woking are paired off in the South division.

Meanwhile, at Wembley Stadium, Barrow came from behind to defeat Champions Stevenage. Andy Drury put Boro ahead on ten minutes before the holders were reduced to ten men after David Bridges attempted to remove Andy Bond’s genetalia with his studs. Barrow finally made the extra man count with ten minutes left as Lee McEvilly planted a header into the bottom corner to level things up. It looked as though the sides would play out extra time with ten men apiece when Robin Hubbert clumsy attempt to remove Charlie Griffins head was spotted by the keen eyed referee, but unfortunately for Boro, who had used all three subs already, a broken Griffin wasn’t much use for them in the extra period on behalf of being immobile in an ambulance at the time. Finally Jason Walker buried a right foot drive just inside the far post to hand Barrow their second Trophy victory.

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The Conference Files – Chester City (On Hold!)

chesterTo be honest with you, I’m watching goings on at Darlington, and the best possible scenario I can see for them right now is a two division demotion. It pains me to say that, but they are a club thats been mismanaged into the ground over the last ten years or so, and while they remain in their out of town white elephant stadium, with little prospect of being allowed to generate money from it, the future looks very bleak indeed.

To add further confusion to the situation, Chester themselves are talking of entering administration, which will cause further headaches for the Conference before they sit down for their AGM later in the summer. As well as this, Southampton still haven’t sorted themselves out, and while they remain without new owners (although two very serious bids seem to be being considered), the danger they could be wound up and have to start two levels down in the Conference is very real… if unlikey.

Chester, and indeed very optimistic Luton fans, will be watching with interest. Until then I’m moving on to the next club on the list… which is Cambridge! Obviously until the playoff has been played I’ll skip them too, so look out for Crawley later in the week…

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