Simon Weatherill continues his Memory Match series with the 3-1 away win at Doncaster on 28th December 1993.
As rubbish starts to the season go, 1993/94 takes some beating. No wins in the first 13 league games and only 7 goals scored is not exactly promotion form!! Also included in that dismal run was an 11-1 aggregate hammering at the hands of Bradford City in the 1st round of the Coca Cola Cup.
Something clearly had to change, and the unpopular manager Billy McEwan paid the price. Officially he resigned, but whether he jumped just before he was about to be pushed is a matter of conjecture. Former Pools boss Alan Murray was given the task of reviving Darlington’s fortunes, and he immediately installed Eddie Kyle as his assistant. Their first game in charge was away at Scunthorpe and resulted in a 3-0 defeat. Their first home game was on the following Tuesday evening against Colchester, and no one could have predicted how that would turn out. The Quakers doubled their season’s goal tally in one action-packed evening as they thumped Colchester 7-3 in front of 1299 fans, all of them hoping that Murray could lead them up the table. They managed to win their next two home games as well, but as the Christmas fixtures approached, things still looked bleak, as Darlington were second bottom in the Division 3 table with 15 points from 19 games. The only team behind them were Northampton Town, who occupied the one and only relegation spot.
The first game of the festive programme saw the Quakers beaten 3-1 at home by Carlisle United, in front of a season’s best crowd of 4,831. The following afternoon, Tuesday 28th December, they would travel to Belle Vue to take on Doncaster Rovers. Rovers were having a mixed season. Only a month previously they’d been sat in sixth place and were eyeing a promotion charge, but three defeats on the trot had dropped them into the bottom half of the table. They currently sat in 14th place with 26 points from their 19 games. The Quakers made one change to their starting eleven for the Doncaster game, Mark Sunley replacing Laurie Pearson. Sunley would play at right back in a five-man defence with skipper Steve O’Shaughnessy dropping back from midfield to play alongside Mattie Appleby and Andy Crosby in the centre of defence.
Doncaster appealed for volunteers on the morning of the game and supporters of both clubs joined together to clear snow off the pitch to allow the game to go ahead. A crowd of 2194 turned out at Belle Vue to see the game. They saw the Quakers take the lead in the 10th minute with virtually their first attack. Mark Sunley swung in a free kick, which was touched on by Paul Cross and volleyed home by Gary Chapman at the far post.
The Quakers very nearly increased their lead in the opening minute of the second half but Lee Ellison’s close-range effort was beaten away by Donny keeper Andy Beasley. The home side were now well on top and grabbed a deserved equaliser in the 58th minute, when a Williamson cross was headed home by Don Page. Rovers’ momentum was interrupted two minutes later though by a floodlight failure. Only one light was left on in the whole of the ground, and that was in the press box.
The players left the field for seven minutes while the problem was fixed, and the Quakers used the break to regroup and sort themselves out. They took control after the restart and regained the lead in the 68th minute. Steve Gaughan, playing against his former club, made a good run to the edge of the box, before squaring the ball to Ellison, who fired home. Things got even better for the Quakers eight minutes later when Ellison controlled a long clearance from Darren Collier and flicked the ball into the path of Robbie Painter, who beat Beasley with a right foot shot. Darlington had to reorganise two minutes later when keeper Collier was flattened by home centre forward Kevin Hulme and had to leave the field for stitches to a nose wound. His place was taken by 17-year-old debutant Ryan Scott. The enforced switch didn’t affect the Quakers too much and they almost added a fourth as Painter fired wide from six yards out, and then the striker was unlucky not to score deep in injury time when his drive from Chapman’s pass was headed off the line.
The 3-1 victory was Darlington’s first away win of the season, but it was their third victory in succession at Belle Vue, which had become a happy hunting ground, after 1-0 wins in their two previous visits. It also proved to be the one and only first team appearance that Ryan Scott ever made. Twelve minutes was the sum total of his Darlington career.
The three points lifted the Quakers to third from bottom in the table but only two wins in the next ten ensured that they never escaped the battle to avoid bottom spot. They spent much of the season in last place and with four games left they found themselves three points adrift of Northampton, but a late rally saw them win three out of the last four to leapfrog the Cobblers into 21st place. Northampton actually escaped relegation to the Conference because Kidderminster’s ground wasn’t up to standard and so they were denied promotion to the Football League.
Doncaster produced a 36-page programme “The Rovers Review” priced at £1. There were two pages dedicated to the visitors, including pen pictures of the players, a team photograph and a list of previous results between the clubs. The team line-ups were on the back page.
Team v Doncaster : 1 Darren Collier 2 Mattie Appleby 3 Paul Cross 4 Gary Himsworth 5 Andy Crosby 6 Mark Sunley 7 Steve Gaughan 8 Robbie Painter 9 Lee Ellison 10 Gary Chapman 11 Steve O’Shaughnessy Subs 12 Simon Shaw (replaced Sunley, 70 mins) 14 Peter Kirkham (not used) 15 Ryan Scott (replaced Collier, 78 mins)