DARLINGTON shot themselves in the foot, snatching a draw from the jaws of victory against Luton Town last night.
Ahead in the 86th minute courtesy of a Ryan Bowman penalty, they let the Hatters back in to pinch a late equaliser.
The Quakers were then presented with a golden opportunity to claim all three points in the dying seconds, but Bowman saw his second penalty saved by Mark Tyler.
The Quakers remain in administration, remain, after 11 games without victory, in the relegation zone.
What is more, what doesn’t help, is that while share sales have stalled, so too, on the evidence of yesterday, has the town’s appetite for turning up to watch.
Craig Liddle could name only three on the bench last night. There weren’t many more in the stands, Neasham Road’s smallest crowd of the season by some way.
So where are you all, while ‘your’ club fights to survive?
Fights well, too. Jack Watson, four times caretaker manager, scout extraordinaire, who died on Saturday, aged 90, and was afforded a minute’s applause, would have been proud, as his former team stood firm while Luton huffed and wheezed.
Inside four minutes Craig McAllister headed Robbie Wilmott’s corner – the first of many – over, and four minutes later thumped an angled shot at Jordan Pickford. Lofting an effort well over at the other end, Adam Rundle briefly interrupted the prevailing flow of traffic.
But the Hatters were swiftly back on top. Alex Lawless and ex-Quaker Greg Taylor saw strikes blocked by Paul Arnison, Janos Kovacs’ header was deflected behind and from the resultant corner, McAllister headed over, again.
Yet for all Luton’s superior share of opportunities, they were far from dominant. Third against third-bottom? Really?
Indeed, midway through the first half Darlington fashioned their best chances thus far.
First, Aaron Brown’s 20-yard free-kick looked to be nestling in the bottom corner of the net, low to Tyler’s right, but the Luton goalkeeper dropped to palm around the post.
From the ensuing corner, Neil Wainwright’s close-range, goalbound shot was blocked by a combination of Ed Asafu-Adjaye and Kovacs.
On the stroke of half-time, Drewe Broughton had slashed a volley wide from a tight angle.
But by then the visitors had earned – yet spurned – an opening to match Darlington’s clearest.
After Adam Watkins chipped over, Danny Crow flicked into the path of McAllister, clean through, but as he attempted to round Pickford, the Quakers custodian was his equal, and saved well.
The 18-year-old, on loan from Sunderland, was proving Luton’s nemesis.
Four minutes after half-time, he reacted sharply to stop an effort deflected late by Kovacs, then twice denied Watkins, once from point-blank range.
At the opposite end, John McReady was blocked by Godfrey Poku, and Bowman by Tyler. But again, the intervention was impermanent.
For Luton, Stuart Fleetwood fired wide and at Pickford, Greg Taylor blasted behind.
Danny Lambert tested Tyler, Brown blazed wide and Broughton headed over, but the away side were enjoying greater possession, if labouring to do much with it.
Then on 81 minutes, Kovacs tugged Bowman and, deemed last man, was sent off. Tyler palmed Kris Taylor’s free-kick behind, then Broughton narrowly failed – Gazza-style, Euro 96 – to connect with Lambert’s low cross.
But on 86 minutes Bowman dispossessed Asafu-Adjaye and, felled by Poke, beat Tyler from the penalty spot.
Moments later McReady was tripped in the box by Asafu-Adjaye but, perhaps having just given one, referee Richard Wigglesworth waved play on.
Typically, Luton went directly to the other end, and scored, Fleetwood tapping in Jake Woodley’s centre. That was 90 minutes, yet there was more.
With five seconds of added time left, Poke again grounded Bowman in the area.
Atoning for his previous leniency, Wigglesworth pointed to the spot.
Tyler saved, from Bowman.
When you’re down and out, you are down and out.
DARLINGTON: Pickford, Arnison, Bowman, Taylor, Brown, Rundle, Keltie, McReady, Wainwright, Broughton, Hopson (Lambert 65). Subs (not used): Nixon, Ferguson. Booked: Wainwright, Broughton, Brown. Goals: Bowman 86 pen.
LUTON: Tyler, Asafu-Adjaye, Kovacs, Pilkington, Taylor, Lawless, Poku, Watkins (Henry 73), Willmott, McAllister (Woolley 89), Crow (Fleetwood 46). Subs (not used): Osano, Boucaud. Sent Off: Kovacs (82). Booked: Poku. Goal: Fleetwood 90.
Ref: Richard Wigglesworth (S Yorkshire) Att: 1,382