Boro 1 Darlington 2
Scarborough Athletic’s biggest-ever home crowd were treated to a real Easter treat, though sadly for the hosts it came to a frustrating conclusion.
Boro matched their title-chasing opponents throughout an encapsulating 90 minutes of football, with both teams playing their part in a tough-tackling cracker.
Many fans will have left a packed Queensgate thinking about another performance though, the one of the match officials, who grabbed centre stage with some questionable decisions.
There are positives aplenty for Boro though, who bounced back from one of their worst performances of the season at Prescot, with one of their best.
Bosses Bryan Hughes and Paul Foot moved quickly to plug the leaky defence of Saturday, by throwing Danny Wilkinson back in at centre-half.
And buoyed by Gary Bradshaw’s return to the attack, Boro looked a completely different animal.
They started in positive mood, with Bradshaw’s strike-partner Blott going close with a low drive in the opening exchanges.
Darlington were always going to be a threat, boasting the strike-force of Nathan Cartman and Graeme Armstrong, who between them have bagged nigh on 60 goals this season.
Minutes after Blott’s chance, Cartman wriggled free of Dean Lisles’ attentions, but Cracknell pounced at his feet.
Boro were the whippets out of the trap though, and they were unlucky once again when Danny Clayton’s free-kick from the right sailed across a crowded area only to be touched away by the outstretched palms of Peter Jameson.
The hosts possibly should have taken control of the scoring as well as the game after 25 minutes, when Darlington defender Alan White lost his feet.
Blott and Bradshaw glided away from the visiting defence, but the former dallied just a second too long and the ball was cleared away.
Frontman Blott was given another great opportunity seconds later when he was picked out by a Clayton centre, but he misjudged his swing and Darlington hacked the ball away.
Alex Metcalfe saw a low drive saved, before Boro were hit by the first controversial decision of the afternoon.
The ball was swung in from a corner on the right and Matty Plummer showed his predatory instincts on the far poset to stab home and start the celebrations among the home fans and players.
Meanwhile, referee Neil Guest noticed the flag of his linesman, and after a swift consultation, he ruled out the goal for a foul, despite the fact that the whistle wieder was just yards away from the action.
Stunned by this blow, Boro almost surrendered their lead just seconds before their half-time cuppa, when Armstrong’s neat header struck the post. Fortunately Lisles was there to clear the danger from under his bar.
Boro re-discovered their edge when the second period began, with clever work from Bradshaw, Blott and Clayton almost picking out a high-flying Metcalfe in the centre.
Darlington went for the kill after this, bringing on David Dowson and the hugely experienced Liam Hatch in attack, a move that reaped immediate rewards.
Former Grimsby and Barnet man Hatch took advantage of Lisles’ slip-up and finished superbly into the bottom corner of the net.
Eyes soon switched to the centre circle where Pete Davidson lay prone after a clash in the build-up, but after more dialogue with his linesman, the ref turned his back.
Boro gritted their teeth and dug in, resulting in a swift restoring of parity.
Clayton’s whipped ball into the box was dropped by keeper Jameson and Blott nodded cleverly into the back of the net.
Darlington soon switched play to the other end and Boro looked to have had a lucky escape when Hatch smashed the ball into the side-netting fron a tight angle.
Baffling, Mr Guest handed Darlington a corner, a decision that would cost Boro the game.
The delivery into the box broke kindly to Cartman, who smashed the ball through the legs of Cracknell to restore Darlington’s lead.
There was still time for Boro after this, but it was always going to be a task to score another past Darlington’s miserly defence that had conceded less than one a game throughout the current campaign.
Attacks were launched, but Darlington clung on to leave Queensgate with the three points.
Boro can still hold their heads high though, knowing that they sparred manfully with one of this level’s superpowers.