After this weekend’s entertaining 2-2 draw at Broadhurst Park against FC United of Manchester, the Bulls now return to Edgar Street for back-to-back home matches. The first of these on Saturday sees Hereford up against Darlington who lie slightly above the Bulls in the league table, with both clubs bidding to gather the points they need to ensure their survival in the Vanarama National League North.
Simon Wright casts his eye over our opponents in what could be a defining match in the Bulls season.
Darlington are another supported-owned club who found National League North harder than they expected. Many have tried and virtually none succeeded early doors. History shows only Chester, of all the many Phoenix / new clubs promoted int Step 2, won promotion at the first attempt. Darlo’s reformed journey started in 2012 in Step 6 and, like us, they zoomed through the lower Leagues in spectacular fashion. Their predecessors had a respectable and long history, including about 80 years as a Football League club. Those with long memories will recall the old Darlington denied Hereford United a trip to Wembley by beating them in the Fourth Division Play-off Semi-Finals. That’s back in the days of Chalkie White and Deam Smith, now completely loco at Villa Park.
Darlington Mark 2’s attendances remain virtually the same as last season, being a respectable 1,450. The train spotters have the 7th best support in Step 2 but as we know, bigger gates in this League doesn’t necessarily equate to a top 7 spot. Talk to Darlo fans and they will lament their club is running out of steam in terms of League placing and their best players are leaving the station. Last summer, they sold defender Josh Heaton to St Mirren for £75,000. In September, striker Reece Styche joined Alfreton for £60,000. Early in 2019, attacker Harvey Saunders was bought by Fleetwood.
Two years ago, the County Durham side finished in the top 5 in National League North, last season they were 12th and this year… obviously not certain but surely already in the sidings and lower than 12th. The North-East side are currently 16th, just one point ahead of the Bulls. This despite supporters donating £80,000 to the playing budget both this season and last. Their recent form is modest with only two wins in 2019 (to March 2). On the road, Darlo’s stats are similar to our own. They’ve won 3 times away. Way back in August, they shocked Brackley by beating them 4-2 in Northants and since then they’ve won at FCUM and Blyth Spartans. As we remember from our Desmond 2-2 at Blackwell Meadows, Darlington do draw a lot of matches. Away from County Durham, they’ve returned with a single point eight times so clearly are a disciplined, well-organised squad. Only two red cards with one of those players subsequently being loaned out. Probably only one player received a ban through the yellow card totting up process. They are also a young side. Their oldest player – aged 31- left in December. Do bear in mind that our visitors have only lost 4 away games. Only Stockport and Spenny have lost fewer. I expect a stubborn battle and probably another drawn game. Just to be clear, our visitors are very much a part-time club, training on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Like ourselves, Darlington don’t have a regular goalscorer. Jordan Nicholson is top scorer with 8. He’s a 25-year-old attacking midfielder with his 8th club. Last season, he mainly played for Nuneaton Borough. Second top scorer is striker Harvey Saunders with 7. In January, 21-year-old Harvey was signed by Fleetwood Town on a 2.5 year contract. The deal included being loaned back to Darlington for the rest of the season though he hasn’t found the net since the deal.
Overall, Darlo used 29 players so far. Only 5 have started more than 75% of their League games. Right wing back Luke Trotman has featured in almost every game. He’s another ex-Nuneaton player and was originally a pro with Luton but a broken leg finished his full-time career. Interesting guy. He is the third year of studying for a degree in banking and finance at Loughborough University and has his own business, running a motivational media channel. Handily, Loughborough is only 140 miles from Darlington.
Their senior player is striker Stephen Thompson who has scored 90 odd times during his 250 appearances for Darlo despite being only 5 foot 7. He’s been with the new club since they started. One more squad member to mention is defender Liam Hughes who bravely recorded a podcast with the football club this season about his mental health problems. It’s a searingly honest ten-minute piece and aimed at reaching out to others who may have the same issues.
Darlington followers are signalling their concerns their club cannot compete with neighbouring Spennymoor and South Shields who are both well-funded and who will catch the eye of the best local players. Incidentally, keep an eye on South Shields. They’ve lost a few games recently but still have an excellent chance of a fourth straight promotion which will break records and promote them into our Division next season. Hereford FC are currently joint record holders as being one of only a handful of Non-League clubs (5?) to secure 3 straight promotions.
The gricers manager is 34-year-old Tommy Wright, a former player, who took over in October 2017 following the resignation of his predecessor. Wright previously managed Nuneaton Borough and Corby after a largely professional playing career spanning 15 clubs. He started with Leicester City and his most notable move was to Aberdeen for £100,000. Later, he had 2 spells at Darlington, including being signed by one Simon Davey. Injury prematurely ended his career in 2013. Wright still lives in Leicester so has a mighty big commute. Predictably, there are supporters who believe their gaffer has gone off the rails and believe a new fat controller is required. No more so when they somehow were beaten at home by Nuneaton Borough. It didn’t help the manager that during the same week, his playing budget was cut and two players left. Wright endured a lot of stick that afternoon and was encouraged to resign, which he refused to do.
Our visitors are running a supporters’ coach to Hereford, £20 for members, leaving at 9.15am. Doesn’t leave much leeway to cover 230 miles but I guess that is their problem. Perhaps they should go by train?