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The Curse of Darlington

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 26/09/2009

THE curse of Darlington once again struck Grimsby, who looked on target for most of the game for a third consecutive win. However a late rally by the ten-men bottom club saw the Quakers claw level, and they could even have won the game. It extends Town's winless run against Darlington to 31 years.

Grimsby had the bulk of possession and chances throughout the game and when Rob Atkinson gave the home side the lead in the 21st minute, it looked like Grimsby would go on and win by a more comfortable margin. However, despite all their possession, Town failed to convert their chances and were always vulnerable to the sucker punch with just a one-goal margin.

When Chandler was sent off with 15 minutes to go and Grimsby leading 1-0 it looked like Grimsby would either hang on to their win, or else finally get the second goal they had been looking for for most of the game.

Instead the pressure seemed to fall off the shoulders of the ten-men of bottom club Darlington, who began to knock the ball about with abandon, and this lead to their equalising goal.

Town piled forward looking for a winner, and the result could even have been an away win had Darlington taken one of their late chances.

Grimsby defended solidly for most of the game, and played well up to the final third. However their inability to make the killer pass in front of goal, compounded by their puzzling reluctance to get players forward into a scoring position in the first place, meant that they didn't create anything near the number of clear-cut chances their play warranted.

The match kicked off in perfect conditions - a warm, autumnal day with no breeze, and a perfect playing surface. Defender Bradley Wood, sponsored by this web site, made a surprise debut for Grimsby at right back, in place of the injured Robbie Stockdale. The town bench, packed with many of the club's better known forward players returning from injury or suspension, meant that Mike Newell had a lot more options to change things during the game than had been the case in recent weeks.

Town almost scored in the opening minute with Darlo's defence was caught napping. Akpro found North on the edge of the box, who turned and fired a shot which went straight at the 'keeper.

Bradley Wood deserted his right back position in the 12th minute, allowing Darlington's Jeff Smith to make his way into the box completely unchallenged. Fortunately his shot went wide.

Town who went on to have most of the possession without any more notable chances, then took the lead in the 20th minute from a corner. The corner had been won when a defence splitting pass was made by Ryan Bennett to Akpro, who crossed to North in a good position, but North's shot was intercepted and went out of play off a defender. From the ensuing corner Rob Atkinson rose unchallenged at the near post to give Grimsby the lead.

Town seemed to suss that corners were Darlington's weak spot, because the Mariners won another four in quick succession. From all of them a Grimsby head got first to the ball, but nobody was able to direct it on target.

Danny North went close once again when Peter Bore played him though late on, but Darlington's best effort of the half was a late effort from a corner, which Miller sent wide.

Half Time: Grimsby 1 Darlington 0

The match had looked very comfortable for Grimsby, with the exception of the scoreline. Bradley Wood had made a promising debut. Apart from a couple of mistakes, he looked pretty solid, and appeared unphased by the occasion. Bennett was mopping everything up in front of the defence, and Sweeney was playing some good balls through to the front two. The best chances had fallen to Danny North, who seemed to lack the killer instinct in front of goal, either failing to get a shot in, or not finding a team mate when he was unable to shoot himself.

North had a great early chance in the second half when Hoult came out for a ball, and was left stranded outside his area. North tried to take it round him but Hoult lunged into North, sending the ball out of play, and the ref awarded a corner.

Bore then made a fantastic run into the box right up to the bye line, but pulled the ball back and was unable to find anyone in the box.

Shortly afterwards Bore was brought down what looked like in the box, but the ref gave a free kick on the edge of the area, which came to nothing.

Just after the hour mark Newell brought on Forbes and Proudlock for Bore and Akpro respectively.

North hit the bar shortly afterwards, although the "goal" might have been disallowed for offside had it gone in. Adam Proudlock then went close with a volley against his former side.

Darlington showed they were still in the game on 64 minutes when Gall beat Lillis - and the post.

Lillis was soon in action again, making a low save from a Devitt shot by the foot of his post, then a flying save from the ensuing corner. You could sense the uneasiness developing in the crowd.

However everyone's concerns seems to had been put to bed when Chandler was shown a red card for an off the ball incident which I did not see, but presumably was given when he struck a Town player.

But within five minutes Darlington went close with a free kick, then they managed to stun the home crowd with a surprise equaliser. Hull City loanee Jamie Devitt skipped over three heavy tackles by the Town defence, with the referee playing an advantage for at least one of them. He then passed the ball to his right and it was played straight back in to Main who headed it in from close range.

Town still had about ten minutes of playing time, and quickly brought on Conlon. The closest they came to a goal though was a near replica of the opening goal, when Atkinson had a free header from a corner, but this time it was straight at the 'keeper.

Full Time: Grimsby 1 Darlington 1.

A huge disappointment but Town only have themselves to blame a) for not taking their chances, and b) for not creating enough chances in the first place. Time and again balls were played into dangerous positions, but nobody had made a run into them to take them up. In many ways it was reminiscent of the Buckley era when we were obsessed with walking the ball into the net. There were too few players getting forward and it was difficult to pick them out a lot of the time.

Bennett played excellently in front of the back four and was my Man of the Match, but it does leave us a man short in midfield and maybe is a step too far at home. It has to be said as well that many of our forward players have not played together recently. Whatever pair Newell has in mind as his best it would be nice if they got an extended run together so that they can get to know each other's games.

Despite the disappointment I'll look at the plus points. 7 points from 3 games, still unbeaten. Wood had an excellent debut and looked the part at right back. Town dominated a game and looked the better side for much of it. Nobody got booked and everyone had more playing time together. The drummer once again put in a good performance in the Pontoon.

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