‘Soft underbelly’ cost Darlington, admits Alun Armstrong

Jake Lawlor after equalising for Darlington on Saturday against Leamington <i>(Image: Steve Halliday)</i>
Jake Lawlor after equalising for Darlington on Saturday against Leamington (Image: Steve Halliday)

It was a case of the same again for Darlington when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Leamington at Blackwell Meadows on Saturday.

Quakers lost 2-1 at Buxton in their previous game because they conceded a sloppy goal and missed a hatful of chances, and the same could be said for this hard-working performance against the Brakes. With better defending and finishing, they would easily have won the game and stayed in second place instead of dropping to fourth.

“The sloppiness of that goal was disappointing,” said manager Alun Armstrong.

“I can’t remember Leamington having a shot in the first half apart from the goal. We seem to be really nervous at set plays, we seem to have gone back to a soft underbelly. That’s down to confidence, the players have stopped helping their mates out because they’re concentrating on their own game.

“It was a real midfield battle in the first half, and we lost our way when we conceded a goal.

“We went really negative, and you could see the confidence has sapped out of the lads a little bit, not for the want of us trying to put it back into them.

Leamington took the lead on 27 minutes, when a hopeful ball forward was flicked on into the box, and Dan Dodds’ clearance rebounded off Simeon May and past Darlington keeper Tommy Taylor.

And they nearly got a second when impressive striker Rhakeem Reid managed to flick the ball over Taylor just inside the area, but Jake Lawlor was covering behind and cleared the ball off the line.

New loan signing Joe Leesley showed his quality with some clever passing, and from one of his balls behind the Leamington defence, Dodds pulled the ball back for Kaine Felix, whose shot was blocked.

It was Leesley’s first game for Quakers at Blackwell, and Armstrong said; “Joe wanted to do everything, that’s the sort of player that he is. He plays left or right field, and put some really good long balls in behind their defence, but we weren’t hungry enough to get on the end of them.

“You can see that he’s played at the level above, he’s a top quality footballer.”

At the start of the second half May got through one-on-one against Taylor, who saved with his legs, but that was virtually their last chance, as Quakers dominated the rest of the half.

Top scorer Mark Beck had a header blocked from a Leesley corner, but put the loose ball over the top, then Leesley headed just wide in a goalmouth scramble.

The pressure intensified when Jacob Hazel came on as sub, and Quakers deservedly levelled on 64 minutes.

Leesley’s corner was punched away by Callum Hawkins, only for Hazel to nod the ball back into the six yard box, where Felix had a shot blocked, but Lawlor was on hand to stroke the ball into the net for his second goal of the season.

Encouraged, Quakers went for the winner. Hazel had a header saved, Beck put another header wide, but their best chance to win was wasted on 77 minutes when a great ball up the left by Jassem Sukar was picked up by Hazel, whose low cross was turned wide by Jack Lambert from a few yards.

Armstrong added: “A big positive for me was the reaction in the second half. The lads had a real good go at Leamington, and Haze (Jacob Hazel) had a massive positive impact when he came on as sub. After Jake Lawlor equalised, we really took the game to Leamington, and we should have won it with the chance that Jack Lambert had.

“That would have gone in during that winning run we had recently, and the goal we conceded wouldn’t have gone in. These things happen, it’s how you deal with them afterwards that matters.”