Tom In 60 Seconds

by Scott Thornberry - 18th October 2010

tom in 60 seconds

A last gasp Tommy Wright strike sixty seconds from time snatched an unlikely point for Darlington at Mansfield and offers hope the club has perhaps turned a corner after a turbulent seven days behind the scenes.

Wright slid in to guide inspirational substitute Chris Senior’s cross from the left past Stags keeper Mihkel Aksalu to put an end to a three match losing run with Quakers showing much improved ‘passion and commitment’ pleasing manager Mark Cooper whose side were frogmarched through the tunnel last week following defeat to Hayes and Yeading.   Garry Mann reports


Cooper said: “I thought we dominated the second half and I was pleased with the passion and commitment we showed in the second half.

However Copper iterated concern: “We don’t have two 45 minutes the same. Richard Dryden and I shouldn’t have to jump up and down like lunatics at half time to get a reaction. We were all over the place in the first half.”

Indeed Mansfield ought to have been out of sight by the break. Through the patience and probing of Kyle Nix and the fearsome pace and drive of Louis Briscoe, David Holdsworth’s side demonstrated a masterclass in the 4.3.3 system for the first 45 minutes coming out of the blocks at a blistering pace and barring a short spell midway through the first half continued to bludgeon a resilient Darlington rearguard until the interval.

It took Quakers 15 minutes to settle. Not surprising in some respects; they had star striker Liam Hatch operating as a makeshift centre back with Mark Copper stating Hatch’s ability to head the ball the reason he was positioned at the heart of his defence.

Liam Hatch

Was it not for the dramatic equaliser and Hatch’s decided comfort and proficiency in this role, dominant in the air and ruthless in the tackle, this experiment would no doubt have stole the headlines.

His inclusion, however, meant the rigid Ian Miller and Kevin Austin operated as full backs with neither entirely comfortable in these roles and unfortunately had worthy counterparts in Cain and particularly Briscoe. Briscoe gave Miller a torrid time and after winning an early free kick which Nix fired over the top from 25 yards, it wasn’t long before Briscoe was carving out the next move which led to the eighth minute opener. Receiving the ball on the left flank the lively youngster cut inside, feeding Cain on the right who crossed for Paul Connor to meet six yards out to comfortably plant past Russell unmarked.

Long time Darlington target Connor was decidedly shell-shocked by the time and space he was afforded by the Darlington defence who started the game very uncharacteristally shakily, totally disorganised and clearly disjointed by the shake up at the back in the early stages.

Such was Mansfield’s early dominance it wasn’t until the 16th minute that Darlington had the ball under control in opposition quarters breaking quickly from Russell’s clearance before Tommy Wright was upended thirty yards from goal.

Kevin Austin championed the resolution that has been the trademark of Cooper’s side since the very start of the season with a double-block to deny Cain a clear chance at goal and a thunderous drive from Murray almost put Hatch on his backside as the makeshift defender got his head in the way of the goalbound strike.

The Quakers’ first meaningful attack was not until the half hour mark as Louis’ turn of pace left Stonehouse trailing behind and debutant Rhys Day requiring to intercept at the expense of a corner as Louis riffled a low cross in towards Wright.

Brown’s corner was too deep and Darlington’s mini grip on proceedings soon petered out with Briscoe returning to role as ringmaster hammering narrowly wide himself just before the break whilst Cain and Connor also squandered good chances. Briscoe ought to have put the game out of sight on 44 minutes, with Nix’s sumptuous through ball playing him in one-on-one, but for a fantastic block save by Russell to maintain the deficit at the break. Not the first time Russell was required to keep his side in the match at Field Mill.

Bridge-Wilkinson looked to redress the balance from the restart. After winning a free kick from the kick off his 25 yard effort sailed over the bar. It’s been 19 months since Darlington’s most recent acquisition, signed on an initial one-month loan from Carlisle yesterday, hit the net in league action when he scored his parent clubs first in a 2-2 stalemate at Hartlepool in January 2009. He becomes Darlington’s 23rd player to be fielded in action this season – more than at this point last season when the club went on to use 53 altogether.

bridge wlkinson

Having rarely been involved in the first half Chris Moore sprung into life with 65 minutes played taking on his marker but delivering to no avail behind his targets in the box. It was Moore’s fellow wingman Josh Gray, a half time introduction in place of Austin, racing onto Bridge-Wilkinson through pass to play Wright in six yards out but he totally miscued his shot screwing it agonisingly wide with the goal at his mercy. It was Wright’s first notable involvement in the whole game. His next would be his goal.

Out of nowhere Darlington were on top. Gareth Waite, completing his first 90 minutes since returning from a long injury lay off, curled wide from 30 yards after it sat up nicely for him, Hatch and Hone both missed half chances with headers from set pieces and Bridge-Wilkinson came close with another free kick from distance.

Chris Moore created his own space before unleashing a fizzing thirty yard effort with 15 minutes left to go but it could have been curtains for Quakers had Aaron’s Brown acrobatic headed clearance off the line denied Day from a corner to keep the score at one-nil.

With Darlington pressing and committing five men in attack Istead and Briscoe both forced saves from Russell with the seven minutes injury time fast subsiding.

In one final foray forward Brown picked Senior out on the left wing; a dropped shoulder freed up the extra yard to cross perfectly in the same position Wright earlier ballooned wide but the number nine connected perfectly to equalise in most dramatic style in front of the travelling supporters to earn a vital draw on the road, their seventh out of eight away games in the league this season.

words by Gary Mann



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