Sunday, November 03, 2019

Away Point For Battling Ten-Man Bulls

O'Sullivan Gets His Marching Orders
 Harwood Bull reports from Darlington

As I was polishing the runners on the sledge and giving the huskies a hearty meal ready for the trip to the north east I was pondering on what kind of day we were in for. With Darlington on a 6 match winning run and Hereford having been error prone on the road the omens weren’t great. Could we turn it around and get a much needed away win under our belt or would Darlo march on? In the end neither of those things happened. What we got was an absorbing battle with Hereford, down to ten men for over an hour of the game, showing great resilience and composure, and fighting every inch of the way to secure a deserved draw.

The Bulls started with Hodgkiss returning from injury, and on-loan Taylor Allen starting on the left side of the attack. 

The other loan signing, Victor Sodiende, was on the bench. Two former Darlington players featured for Hereford. Styche started at centre forward and got the sort of reception from the home supporters I’m sure he expected. Jordan Nicholson, another ex-Quaker, was one of the substitutes.

The first ten minutes or so were pretty uneventful, the first real excitement coming after 12 minutes when a powerful long range effort from Holness was just wide of the Hereford goal. Darlington started to come into the game more, having most of the possession, and showing a lot of pace on the flanks, something which the Bulls have looked vulnerable to in previous games. Today both our full backs looked sharp and dealt with most of the threats well. Darlo’s diminutive number 9, Adam Campbell, liked to operate on the left and then cut inside for a shot off his right foot, but Hereford’s defence restricted him to long range efforts which failed to hit the target.

Things took a serious turn for the worse on 28 minutes. Tommy O’Sullivan had already been booked for a foul minutes before and then committed a blatant deliberate handball in full view of the ref. The inevitable second yellow was shown and he trudged off. I can only imagine what he was thinking, but I know what I was, and it was something along the lines of “what a silly boy he is”. No excuse for being that stupid, in my opinion. What was already a difficult job was suddenly much, much harder.

A fairly scrappy passage of play followed, with lots of petty fouls and whinging and moaning at the ref. Then Styche worked himself a shooting opportunity on the right but his low drive was into the side netting. 

Shortly after Dawson and Thomas combined well on the right flank to create a crossing opportunity but the full back’s cross was too high. In the 40th minute following a Darlington corner on their right the ball was crossed in for O’Neill to power in a downward header which was met by an excellent save from Brandon Hall, and a after a couple of panic stricken seconds the ball was scrambled away. Right at the end of the half Peter Vincenti had a header on target following a good run and chipped cross by Dawson, but it was comfortably saved.

Halftime: Darlington FC 0 Hereford FC 0

Having survived the first forty five minutes Russell Slade started the second half with the same ten that finished the first, but after only four minutes Vincenti limped off to be replaced by Victor Sodiende. 

Victor Sodeinde
 To Hereford’s credit the tactics weren’t just to get everyone back behind the ball, they still tried to take the game to the home side, but this became increasingly difficult as the extra man started to tell. In the 57th minute the ball was cut back into the Hereford penalty area from the by-line and the low shot was blocked by Hodgkiss on the line. A couple of minutes later Thomas was booked for a typically “committed” (and extremely late) challenge. He was possibly lucky to get away with a yellow card, the home supporters certainly thought so.

The Bulls were starting to win a few free kicks in attacking positions, and this seemed to be the best chance of snatching a goal. From one of these Josh Gowling was left stretched out in the home penalty area having received a head wound going for a high ball. Despite Hereford’s protests the game continued and Darlington broke forward but wasted the opportunity. Gowling stayed down for some time, being patched up by both physios, finally getting to his feet with a massive bandage around his head, but thankfully able to continue.

Hereford made two changes, Nicholson came on for Allen to a chorus of boos from the home fans – he showed some good touches and looked lively. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Allen’s contribution, or by Styche who was replaced by Mooney. Styche is a bit of a mystery to me – for his previous three clubs, including Darlington, he’s averaged a goal every two games, but for the Bulls he hasn’t looked likely to score in any of the games I’ve seen.

Jordan Nicholson Went Close With This Shot
There were nine minutes added, due to the prolonged treatment to Gowling. Darlington pressed for the winner but didn’t make the most of their chances to get the ball into the box, crosses frequently being over hit. Hall made a couple of good saves, including one from a direct free kick. The rebound from that was smashed into the net but the referee had seen an infringement and the goal was disallowed.

Full Time : Darlington FC 0 Hereford FC 0

Overall, a satisfying result. The team looked much tighter and better organised than previously, and kept their shape well. The back four looked solid, and Ben Pollock was the unsung hero, putting in an excellent shift as the defensive midfielder just in front of them. 

Ben Pollock
Dawson looks like he could be a major influence with his years of experience and the whole team battled tirelessly to earn the point. It was greatly to their credit that they still tried to go forward when they could and the substitutions were positive ones, Slade refusing to replace attacking players with defenders.

A good defensive performance and a clean sheet. If we can maintain that and add a bit of firepower up front then a playoff place is a realistic ambition.

A word for the home club. Sharing the ground with the rugby club seems to work well - facilities are good, stewards were friendly and the pitch was in great shape considering two sports are played on it. A good day out!