The time to worry is now for Darlo

If you are a Darlo fan and you aren’t already thinking about relegation the time to start is now. While the majority of fans will have been at this stage long before this weekend’s match, anyone who wasn’t worried about relegation before will be.

Despite our struggles over recent months, we have never been this close to the drop zone. Our latest defeat leaves us outside the bottom three only on goal difference, with third bottom Gainsborough having a game in hand over us. 

While there were positives to take once again the time of taking positives is over. We can keep taking positives from games, but if the results don’t turn around it won’t mean anything. 

Yesterday pretty much summed up the Tommy Wright era so far, no lack of effort from the majority, one good half, but one bad half with a string of individual errors.

The game was another frustrating one. Without dominating we more than held our own in the first half and deservedly went ahead at half time. Apart from Parkin’s strike, which was ruled out for offside, we rarely looked threatened at the back. At the other end, Reece Styche again showed why he has everything in his locker to be one of the best strikers at this level with a brilliant goal.

What happened after the break was unacceptable. Within 50 seconds of the kick off, York were level after three or four players made simple mistakes. Just minutes later we were again caught from one of our set plays at the other end of the pitch. Not just under Tommy Wright, but under Gray as well over the last couple of seasons, I have never known a team to get caught out so often short numbers wise on the counter. Regardless of how easily their player went down for the penalty, it was our error that led to him being clean through.

York, who have one of the biggest playing budgets in the league, didn’t carve us open for either goal but we gifted them two goals.

I have nothing wrong with the team we started off with but after conversations on Twitter last night our fans seemed divided on what formation we went with. Personally, I saw it as a 4-4-2, others 3-4-3. Either way, if it isn’t clear from the stands what formation we are trying to play it isn’t a good sign.

My other gripe from yesterday was the substitutions. Only one was made which was forced on us through injury. The second half we never really looked like getting back into the game, we had a lot of dangerous set pieces but didn’t create a lot. The game was crying out for something else to be tried, while Scott and Turnbull aren’t necessarily forward thinking players, Gillies and Caton are. What harm could it have done throwing at least one on?

Since Tommy took over we have on the whole had tough fixtures, only Gainsborough have been in the bottom half of the table, although the less said about that game the better.

We play Salford on Wednesday but also this month we have trips to Alfreton and Leamington which are looking like must win games already. Sandwiched in between we play Chorley, while February brings no let up with all four games being against sides currently in the playoffs.

At some point in this run of games, we need to turn things around, if not we could be dead and buried by the start of March. 

I will, as most fans will, go to Blackwell Meadows on Wednesday expecting to not get anything from our fixture with Salford and anything we do get is a bonus. It doesn’t really matter given our form but now is the best time this season to be playing Salford, no wins in four.

I just hope a plan is in place if we do end up back in the Evo-Stik next season.



How important Harrogate win could prove to be

On Boxing Day we picked up a huge win at home to Harrogate Town and everything suddenly looks different.

Let’s not get carried away it is only three points, but it is amazing how one win can change everything in just two hours.

After last Saturday’s defeat at Gainsborough Trinity, everything was doom and gloom. You could see why as well a very poor performance against another relegation rival meant we were just one point off the bottom three.

Despite some encouraging performances, Tommy Wright and Alan White hadn’t been able to turn our results around, with one draw from six games. Disastrous form for any club in any situation.

With a double header against second placed Harrogate followed by games with York and Salford, it looked like it was a guaranteed to get worse before it got better.

Thankfully though, football surprises you when you least expect it. We started with four at the back and looked a different side.

Harrogate were a team who despite sitting second in the table, haven’t actually been in that good form in the league in the last few months. Regardless, for 60/70 minutes of the match, we looked the better side.
The fans played a big part, as Tommy said in his post match interview the crowd were behind the players from the word go and he helped us in the first ten minutes. Apart from one chance following an error by Talbot in goal, Harrogate failed to create much while we looked comfortable for most of the first half.

The defence looked a lot more solid than in recent weeks, Josh Heaton showed how important a player he could be. While Dom Collins continued to impress. In the first few games of the season, I have to admit I didn’t think he looked up to the task, but now he is the first defender when fit on the teamsheet.

Thommo who looks like a man possessed under the new management continued to impress winning the first penalty. While, despite the nature of the two goals, Reece Styche showed again what he can bring to the team and how much of an impact he could have on our season.

Despite the control we had on the game, there was a period when we in trouble. Styche went off and was replaced by Harvey Saunders. The youngster has many qualities, but he can’t play the same role as Styche. The ball kept coming back and suddenly we started soaking up a lot of pressure, after their first goal it kept coming. If I’m honest I expected a further change from Tommy, as the way it was going I could not see us holding out for the win.

Thankfully a bad tackle leading to Harrogate’s first red card took all the pressure off us and Saunders was able to win another penalty, as Thommo sealed a huge win.

The win was a relief for all involved in the club. Defeat would have left us second bottom in the table, with three tough games next to come and it would all look doom and gloom.

Suddenly, after the performance and result, we look like a side that could get something out of the next few games. Another couple of good results and we will be able to pull ourselves away from danger.

It’s important not to get carried away it is still only one win. We could easily lose the next three and find ourselves in the relegation places.

However, if nothing else Boxing Day shows that our squad is good enough to compete with those near the top of the league and if they continue to show that we will be fine come April.

Bring on 2018.




Darlo v Salford the last instalment of the “rivalry”

We undoubtedly have one of the toughest tests of the season on Saturday, as we host the runaway league leaders Salford.

The opening day of the season was one of the few highlights of our campaign so far. A 2-0 win away to Salford thanks to a double from David Ferguson got our season off to the perfect start against the title favourites. However, since our fortunes could not have differed any more greatly.

While our season has completely crumbled after our brilliant start, Salford have only lost once more in the league and have opened up a huge gap at the top of the table.

The so-called rivalry between the two clubs looks set to come to an end. Materialised purely by both club’s fighting for promotion with each other for the last three seasons. The first season we played each other the two fixtures were no different then any other league matches, if they were a sign of the drama to come between the two sides. Thommo and Dowson scored two goals in the final few minutes to earn us a 2-2 draw at Heritage Park.

However, once this season is finished and Salford surely secure the title we may not meet for a long time, if that is the case I for one will be glad. When we look back over this period of time and the success we have had on the pitch the two opposing teams that will spring to mind will be Salford and Spennymoor.

For their fans, they won’t be bothered about us come next season, regardless of the recent chants from some Ammies at Blyth. I’m sure some of these will be the same people who probably didn’t realise Salford had a football team till the Class of 92 came along. Despite that being said the owners and managers have a plan and they are executing it. Regardless of the path I want our club to take it is hard not to be jealous of what Salford have done. Everything is being set up for their future on and off the pitch. Despite our recent journeys together, in so many ways there are lightyears between the clubs.

As previously said, in years to come when we look back at this period of success in our history some of the matches will Salford won’t ever be forgotten. Looking back over the games we have had for me three stick out.

The 2-0 defeat at Moor Lane. It was built up as such a huge match, but we simply didn’t turn up, lost our heads and with everything that happened it was a disastrous afternoon. The aftermath was unnecessary and really was a sour note in what should be remembered as a great season for both clubs.

That extra spice that had been added carried over into the next season and will be forever remembered by those in attendance. Coming from 3-1 down to win late on at Moor Lane was an incredible day. Lee Gaskell played the starring role before Nathan Cartman won the game in the most dramatic of fashions.

For me though the home game was just as memorable. Salford appeared to have revenge just weeks later, but Leon Scott and a scrambled winner from Lam Hardy was one of the great nights we had at Heritage Park.

The six points from those two games which easily could have been zero made a huge difference when looking at the overall picture of our title-winning season.

I want Salford to go up this season, so we are done with the circus and the drama that comes with them. This season it looks like they will get promoted and in the next few years, I expect them to make the Football League. Our next few years, in contrast, are far less clear.

Looking ahead to the actual 90 minutes there are a number of our players that have played in the past games against Salford which will surely bring an edge to the match. Which for Saturday’s match when we need a lift it can’t be a bad thing.

Our last two games have produced positive performances at one end of the pitch if we have still been dire at the other. To turn our fortunes around though, one of these performances needs to turn into a win, or this season will get uglier before it gets better.

On paper, the teams, the form, there is only one winner and it isn’t us. However, football is not that straightforward, our team will be up for it, so will our fans, one more dramatic result over Salford? You never know.



Where do Darlo go from here

On Saturday, we were dumped out of the FA Cup by South Shields, 3-0, a side who are two divisions below ourselves.

Even before the game had finished the inquest had started and myself along with a huge number of fans vented their frustration on Twitter. A few days later and it doesn’t feel much better.

Fundraising has been the heartbeat of finances for the club over the last five years and apart from funds raised directly from the fans, income has been hard to come by. Ultimately it ends up being the same fans having to go back to their pockets time and time again.

I like us being fan owned, but going forward I think investment has to happen, over a period longer than a few years, the same fans cannot keep stumping up time and time again. How does this link to Saturday? Prize money. The money for winning one round of FA Cup qualifying or in the FA trophy is not particularly huge, but, it can make a big difference.

It is the potential as well, not just this round, but future rounds. Even if it is a long shot the opportunity of winning three ties and having a game live on BBC would provide funding that the fans simply don’t have. A run in the FA Cup can also provide much needed publicity to promote us for potential sponsors and fans.

Considering how important the prize money is to have another year without any is beyond disappointing. In the last four seasons, we have won one FA Cup tie. Losing to Blyth I could accept given at the time they were a division higher than ourselves, but Hyde who were in the same division and Lancaster/South Shields both two divisions below is hard to take.

The performance itself was like many this season, dissapointing. Despite investment did South Shields have better players than us? No, I think on paper only two or three would get into our team, Arca being one.

Once again there was too many players who had an off day all. In goal for Shields was Jack Norton a player who we deemed not good enough for us in the Northern League, due to several clangers,  yet we didn’t test him. They also had Anthony Callaghan at left back, who had played six games for us two seasons ago in the Evo-Stik Premier, again he was released and again we barely tested him. Steven Thompson had a couple of runs at him in the second half, but he also was untroubled.

As bad as the first half performance was, the score could easily have been different at half time. We missed a couple of golden opportunities through Dave Syers and James Caton. At the other end while both were well worked goals, both were simple errors from our defenders. Their first goal a Shields player lost Kev Burgess too easily to flick it on and the second Liam Marrs went in for a tackle he never should have gone for leaving their left winger completely open.

If the first half was bad the second was much worse, it was similar to the Leamington match where we didn’t seem to know how to break through, or even create a sight of goal. The difference was South Shields had the extra quality that Leamington did not and carved us open at will on the break, it could have easily finished 6/7.

Within the squad, we have several players that have come up with us from lower levels of the pyramid, but simply are now out of their depth.

Others fall into the luxury player category, when they are good they can produce moments of brilliance, but these are not coming often enough considering how much they are bringing to the table as a whole.

Not everyone falls into one of these two categories, but a large chunk of the squad do. I actually felt sorry for Beck on Saturday, I’m not always his biggest fan, but in the first half he held the ball up well and I don’t think he should be the scapegoat. He looks like he needs a couple of games rest, he wasn’t fully fit before the season started and has since played virtually every minute.

The final straw for me was Gray’s interview, yes he did take some responsibility for the defeat. However, the main point he had was that we need further investment to compete. While I do agree to some extent, I think investment first needs to be off the field on the infrastructure of the club and Blackwell Meadows rather than the team. Budget wise we may not be able to compete with Salford, York and Harrogate etc, but we certainly have a bigger budget than a lot of sides in our division. Gray needs to manage the players he has including the ones he has chosen to bring in rather than asking for more money.

It is far from the season over, we are two points off from the playoffs, but since 1996 I have been going to watch us and Saturday was one of the most dissappointed I felt leaving the ground.

Finally, though it was sad to see that Wayne Raper has stepped down from his position as chair of DFCSG. Wayne has done a fantastic job with only ever with the club’s interests at heart in very difficult circumstances and it is sad to see him go. Hopefully, someone else is able to step up and carry on the great work he has done. However, it is hard not to see the coming weeks and months as challenging for everyone involved with the club.

Darlo 1v1 Spenny a good point or two dropped?

I’m always reluctant to settle for a point at home, but at half-time on Monday, I would have taken someones hand off for it.

After Telford and North Ferriby, I like many was a bit deflated. We suddenly faced our neighbours after two bad results while they travelled to Blackwell Meadows with their tails up.

James Caton has become a bit of a scape goat over the last two games and it was probably a good thing for him to be taken out of the firing line as we changed formation.

However, it definitely didn’t work in the first half, whatever the plan was. We had a couple of half chances one which was created by a goalkeeping error, but we were once again second best. The Brewers, like us, didn’t create a host of chances in the first period, but had the majority of the possession and they always looked in control of the game.

The goal showed our vunerability and while it was a great finish, the build up saw our defence and midfield all over the place.

Thankfully,  whatever Martin Gray said to them at half time it worked, the same 11 looked a different side and for the next 25/30 minutes we were on top. Yes, it took a goalkeeping howler for our goal, but we played so much better.

Despite improving Spennymoor still had a great couple of chances to win the game and but for Adam Bartlett along with wasteful finishing we could have easily lost.

Even taking into account the second half it was another disappointing performance against a side who I expect to finish around where we do come April.

The change in formation did little to change the recent mood and to be honest made us play more direct if anything.

In an ideal world, I think  Beck needs a rest, but don’t know if we have a game plan without him.

On the plus side despite a couple of wobbles, I thought Collins had a very solid second half, he seemed to win virtually every header after the break.  It was also good to see Tom Portas get some more game time, which is exactly what he needs.

Again, I was disappointed with the attendance. I’m sure some don’t agree, as it was our first 2,000+ crowd of the season, but if you take out the away fans, it was less than 1,700 home fans. It was a local game, on a Bank Holiday Monday and the weather was fantastic, maybe just me, maybe I aiming too high.

Come the end of the season I would settle for a playoff place, but as always in football, it is hard to look past the last few results. For us, four without a win.

At least we have two easy games next up, away trips to Southport and Chorley.


Darlo v Spenny preview

It was always going to be a tough test, but recent results have made it tougher. The first big game of the season at Blackwell Meadows and it comes on Bank Holiday Monday.

Regardless of what either set of fans say it is a big game, two neighbours on the up, it should be a cracker.

We have had the better of our games over the last few years, winning four and drawing one of the five between us in the league and playoffs. In particular, the 3-1 win at the Brewery Field in the Northern League and the 3-2 victory in the playoffs will live long in the memory.

However, going into the game there are reasons to be concerned. While we have had two bad results, Spenny have been continuing their good start to the season. They have picked up an impressive 13 points so far sitting two points ahead of us in fourth place in the table.

In fact, they will have been disappointed not to be two points better off having been held on Saturday. Against title favourites Salford they led 1-0 against ten men, but could not hold on.

Spennmoor will travel to Blackwell Meadows full of confidence following their start to the season.  While they have many ex Quakers in their ranks Joe Tait and Rob Ramshaw are the two who are regularly playing this year. Tait is a good defender and leader which he showed with us, while Ramshaw always had the talent as a youngster and it is good to see him progressing.

I wasn’t at the North Ferriby game on Saturday, but from those who went, it sounded like the game should have been over by half time. Against a team who had started poorly, if we scored another there probably would have been no way back, but we didn’t and we paid for it.

11 points from our opening six games isn’t too bad a return considering the fixtures we have had, but it’s hard to look past one point from the last two.

After the York result, I foolishly had in my head we would pick up six points and we would all be set for derby day on Bank Holiday Monday. However, Football has a habit of not being that straight forward. Suddenly failing to win tomorrow and it is four without a win. Another result from Saturday which caught my eye was Telford losing at home to Bradford PA, yet we made them look good just a week before.


Apart from the result the other major concern from Saturday is Chris Hunter, by all reports it was an awful injury. I’m surprised he has played as much as he has this season, but regardless it is never nice to see any major injury to a player and hopefully, it is a speedy recovery.

It was fantastic though to see Tom Portas start a game after his lengthy injury. He is a player that has quality in abundance and if he is given the game time could have a big say on our season.

It is obviously too early to be a make or break match, but after the last two games we really need a pick me up and tomorrow could be it.

Hopefully, we have a big crowd and a strong atmosphere, which at home over the last few years have more than not ended with a good result.

Darlington v Telford over reaction?

Saturday was a bad day on and off the pitch for ourselves, but is the reaction we have seen from fans over the last few days justified?

I am as bad as anyone for my emotions straight after matches, so have left it till the middle of the week to voice my views.

On the pitch

Before we talk crowds and the future of our club, lets get to the reason why the majority of fans attend, what happens on the pitch for 90 minutes.

The most disappointing part for me, was for the first time this season I went to Blackwell Meadows with expectations. After a brilliant opening four games, I went expecting a good performance and a comfortable win. It goes to show you can’t ever guarantee anything in this game.

The game reminded me of Nuneaton/Curzon at home last season, against teams on paper many fans would expect to beat, but we simply did not put in a performance worthy of the three points.

Most worrying was virtually every player had an off day. In defense, we looked vulnerable while the distribution from the back was dreadful.

The usually sold pair of Turnbull and Syers struggled to get a hold of the game. Yes, the conditions were far from easy to play in, but Telford coped much better throughout.

Our creative players Gillies and Thommo struggled to have an impact, with even the impressive David Ferguson not having as much of an impact from left back.

Up top, we failed to utilise Mark Beck in conditions when we needed him most. Nothing was sticking and when he was able to win the ball it wasn’t falling our way.

We have had tendencies over the last few years to throw these really bad performances in with the good under Martin Gray, but thankfully they have been few and far between.

The key is to how we bounce back, in the first four games this team has shown what they are capable of, so I have no doubt we will. We just have to make sure performances like this don’t become more regular.

Off the field

If the performance and result on Saturday were disappointing the attendance was deflating. For our club attendances are the biggest influence on our finances unless significant investment comes in.

Everything on Saturday was set up for a big attendance. A nice day, an almost perfect start to the season and on the back of high spirits from York.

For the crowd to be lower than our first two home games asks many questions.

As people have noted the attendance from our first three games are higher than we have had in recent seasons for the opening games and the sides we have played have only bought a handful of fans.

However, it is disheartening that the numbers we have budgeted for are not coming through the turnstiles on a weekly basis.

For me, it is the overall matchday experience that we can offer at Blackwell Meadows. While some problems have been ironed out since the opening game, many remain.

While out of the town at Heritage Park, I like many, enjoyed the matches. Regardless of if the bank was allowed for standing or not, it offered a good view to watch the game.

Views at Blackwell Meadows have been a big problem from day one. If you aren’t in the seats or want to go in the tin shed you need to be there early. Despite the problem having been lessened, peoples experience from that first game against Halifax will have put off many from coming back.

It is hard to know what can be done as fans and by those on the board to lessen the problem without substantial investment. I am still amazed the capacity is 3,000 as it is not possible for that many to be in the ground with all having a good view of the action.

I have major concerns, as do many, about how far we can progress without investment and at Blackwell Meadows in general. For this season attendance wise my fear would be that no matter how we do on the pitch they will struggle to rise.

Going back to the game, it was a bad performance, but I am confident we can turn it round. However, in terms of the attendances increasing, I am less optimistic.