THE agony is being piled on for Darlington in the cruellest fashion, a stoppage time penalty sentencing them to defeat on one of their longest journeys of what has become a heart-breaking season.
A bad bounce just 20 seconds from the end of the three minutes of added time led to the ball striking defender Alan White’s hand, and Simeon Jackson rammed home the penalty. It was the second time this season that a last-gasp goal had given Gills victory over Quakers, for they also plundered the points at The Arena.
A Darlington side hit by injury and suspension included players out of position, but they battled bravely in the second half after creating chances in the first period.
They came under inevitable early pressure as they found their feet, but they defended so well that keeper Andy Oakes was well protected and not stretched at all in the first half. The nearest Gills came was a long-range shot from Curtis Weston, and it took the home side 35 minutes to engineer that half-chance.
Darlington posed more problems with several lively raids on the break. On 12 minutes, Ryan Valentine was denied by a save from Simon Royce, who tipped his shot over the bar.
The chance was created by an Adam Griffin cross which was headed out as far as Valentine, who fired goalwards.
Griffin sent a left-foot volley over the bar, while on 39 minutes Kennedy fired wide as Quakers made light of their long journey and hectic schedule.
Gillingham applied strong pressure in the second half, and were unlucky on 53 minutes when Mark McCammon found the net only for play to be brought back for a free-kick to Gills and a booking for Valentine for a foul on Weston.
Poole blocked a powerful shot from Gills’ Adam Miller, while Nicky Southall, who started his career at Darlington, created a couple of chances which went begging, notably when Jackson missed his kick. But the striker was reprieved by his last-minute penalty.
Darlington manager Dave Penney said: “When you are down on your luck, that’s what happens. We created good chances in the first half and more than matched a good side.
“We were down to 10 fit senior outfield players, and they were all magnificent, then we conceded a penalty like that. White didn’t handle on purpose; it was a bad bounce.”
GILLINGHAM: Royce, Fuller, Bentley (Richards 33), King, Nutter, Southall (Mulligan 89), Miller, Weston, Oli (Barcham 63), Jackson, McCammon. Subs (not used): Lewis, Julian.
Goal: Jackson 90 pen.
DARLINGTON: Oakes, Valentine, Fortune (Main 85), Miller, Foster, White, Poole, Purdie, Kennedy, Griffin, Carlton. Subs (not used): Kazimierczak, Barnes, Groves, Gray.
Booked: Valentine, Poole.
Ref: Steve Bratt (W Midlands). Att: 4,730