Darlington 2 Hull City 0

The inconsistency of City rears up again, as a weak performance cedes 3 easy points to Darlo on our last ever visit to Feethams.  Mike Scott squeezes down Polam Lane for the last time and tells the story.
I’m suspicious and I smell a rat. Big time. How can it be that a Darlington team so obviously inept and ignorant to even the most casual observer can all of a sudden, in response to two muffled claps of thunder from behind the South Terrace at Feethams, score tidy goals and rob Hull City of, err, a million points. On leaving the ground the incriminating evidence was found – a large Rolf Harris style wobble board with “property of Tecwen Whittock” stamped on one corner. Case closed. What a shocker. A first half bereft of quality, skill and effort came and went, only enlightened by a half-hearted brawl between the entire Darlo eleven and a ready-for-fisticuff-action Damien Delaney. The second half meandered along much the same until Yellow Pages wielding Cold Feet star James Nesbitt, guesting up front for Darlington with the name “Conlon” on his back, sprang into life and turned the game on its head with a powerful display of forwardsmanship. Sign him up on the strength of this performance I say – it worked a treat with Ryan Williams, after all! City lined up in a remarkable (as in remarkably confusing and dreadful) 4-5-1 formation thus:

Fettis Otsemobor Anderson Whittle Joseph Regan Delaney Keates Elliott Burgess

I believe Melton was also on the pitch, but gracing him with an allocated position would be stretching a point. Yes, we’re going down that line again ….. The referee, a well proportioned gentleman with a much more natural body shape than these under-six-foot-less-than-seventeen-stone freaks you get these days, whistled the game on its way in a pair of high ankled boots with white laces that came straight from the 1950s, and immediately Elliott nodded an acceptable chance just wide. Fettis scrambled frantically across goal but couldn’t prevent the corner. At the other end Burgess was winning most headers in a repeat performance of Saturday, but his lack of a strike partner meant that penetration was far less prevalent. With Elliott stationed wide left I suspect Melton was cast in the role of lung busting kerosene fuelled midfield powerhouse crashing through tackles to latch onto Ben’s flicks. How Peter Taylor must’ve ruminated excitedly on this tactical masterstroke as Melton grazed idly on the long grass of the centre circle. It was therefore left to Delaney, who once again showed admirable willingness to cover at least three positions as several of his teammates tossed it off, to do what he could to match Burgess’s powerful performance. Darlo weren’t much better, useful forward Conlon rarely broke out of a jog while the odd chance that they had – a Nicholls volley and a ponderous Pearson free kick – failed to trouble Fettis beyond the need to bend awkwardly as he placed the ball on the six yard line for another goalkick. Only a Pearson snapshot, gifted to him after Melton kindly trapped a Keates clearance and rolled it across the face of our goal 20 yards out, drew a save out of Fettis, but that threat was dealt with in Gordon Banks style. My notes indicate a run of City chances in the quarter hour running up to half-time, but in truth a Joseph long shot, a Delaney curler, an Elliott cross-shot and an Anderson header were mere blips in an otherwise uneventful half, played out in the balmy spring sunshine in front of an entirely silent Darlington support of, I am told, 703. Deafened by all the pins dropping, half time couldn’t come quickly enough for me. Within thirty seconds of the restart the lumbering ex-Shayman Clarke performed a neat airshot on the edge of his own box, Burgess took the ball and twisted and turned in a manner that belied his six feet and four inches and the resulting shot was smothered by smiling Darlo goalkeeper Robin Askwith, wearing the name “Porter” on his back, at the eighth attempt. This signalled the start of a period of dominance for City as the midfield finally complied with the instructions to get past Burgess and accept his knock-downs. Melton was freed by one such manoeuvre and only some surreptitious shirt tugging by Clarke prevented the fuel injected goal machine from adding to his impressive Tigers tally of, err, none. But just as it came, so it went. Keates and Delaney went for the same ball deep in Darlo territory and the ball fell to Newey who scuttled down the left before swinging a tasty pass wide right to Conlon. The Irishman threw down his slippers, pipe and lace fringed blackout mask and advanced on the City penalty box without attracting much attention. His sweet cross was then met by the unmarked Newey, who had kept going after his pass in rather unfair fashion I thought, and the ex-Leeds man thumped a low shot past Fettis’s right hand. 1-0. On Saturday the opposition goal was the catalyst for City to spring into action. On Monday it ….. wasn’t. Jevons replaced the limping Keates and we reverted to 4-4-2, except Melton’s invisible man trick and Jevons’ apparent disinterest in earning a City contract conspired to make it 4-3-1. Add the fact that Regan had a game just about as wretched as he will ever experience at any level, and the deficiencies become readily apparent. Darlo carved more chances as Nicholls headed an unchallenged cross wastefully over the crossbar and Clarke repeated the same trick moments later. City escaped a scare when they could’ve gone to a 3-2-1 formation as Joseph cut across the path of Nicholls and felled him when the Darlo man was 1-on-1 after a hopeful punt from the defence fell nicely. Joseph escaped with a yellow – while he was clearly last man, the challenge was ill-advised rather than malicious which perhaps saved him from seeing red. In the last minute a ropey freekick was awarded to Darlo on halfway and after dropping into the City box it was cleared to Conlon who swiped at it hopefully and was pleased to see it thud into the stanchion within the goal high up to Fettis’s right. 2-0. Fair result. The closing seconds saw the game summed up neatly. A hasty City through ball fell to no one in particular but the willing Delaney – to whom I have warmed considerably in the last few weeks – ran 60 yards to chase it down and harry the defender into conceding a corner. From the resulting flagkick and short corner routine released Regan along the goalline – his cross spannered, I exaggerate not, twenty yards beyond the far post when he hit it from no more than fifteen yards shy of the near post. Shockingly wasteful and careless. That was City today, Delaney and Burgess excepted.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Anderson, Whittle, Otsemobor, Regan, Delaney, Keates, Melton, Elliott, Burgess.  Subs: Jevons (for Keates, 58), Smith (for Otsemobor, 72), Reeves, Webb, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Jevons, Joseph Sent Off: None   DARLINGTON: Porter, Valentine, Liddle, Whitehead, Clarke, Newey, Keltie, Pearson, Nicholls, Conlon, Corbett.  Subs: Collett, Clark, Maddison, Mellanby, Wainwright. Goals: Newey 56, Conlon 90 Booked: Pearson, Valentine Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,487