Simon Weatherill continues his terrific Memory Lane series with the 4-0 away win at Halifax Town on 7th September 1968
The 1968/69 season would be the first full season under new manager Ray Yeoman. Yeoman had taken over from Jimmy Greenhalgh in the previous March and had the last 16 games of the season to assess his squad and decide where improvements were needed. During his time in charge the team found some form with six wins and six draws that lifted them from third bottom up to a finishing position of 16th place, so as the new season approached hopes were high that things were going to be better under his stewardship.
Yeoman made two key signings during the summer. Ken Hale was brought in from Oxford United and immediately installed as team captain. He was an experienced midfield player who had previously played for Newcastle, where he’d made 30 first team appearances, Coventry (98 apps) and Oxford (64 apps). Yeoman also persuaded Lance Robson to return to the club after a four year absence. The centre forward had retired from the professional game and gone to Gateshead to play part time but Yeoman wanted the former Feethams favourite back at the club to lead the line.
The two new signings were influential as the Quakers kicked off the 68/69 season in promising fashion. A 2-1 win at Workington on the opening day was followed by three successive draws and then a 5-0 demolition of league leaders Lincoln City. City had arrived at Feethams with a 100% record but had no answer to the Quakers’ slick passing and fluid attacking play. With no injury worries, Yeoman had no hesitation in naming an unchanged side for the fourth game in a row for the visit to Halifax Town on the following Saturday – September 7th. Darlington sat in second place in the table with seven points from their five games, just one point adrift of leaders Lincoln. Halifax had also made a reasonable start to the season and sat in 8th place with six points, so a victory over the Quakers would see them leapfrog their opponents in the table. The Shaymen had three victories on the trot leading up to the Darlington game so a tough encounter was promised between two in-form sides.
A crowd of 5058 were at The Shay to see the Quakers make a bright start to the game, taking the lead after only six minutes with a well worked goal. Les O’Neill combined with Alan Sproates in midfield and sent centre forward Lance Robson away down the right. His pass into the penalty area was met perfectly by the onrushing O’Neill who slammed the ball past home keeper Alex Smith. Halifax, who were missing top scorer and ex-Quaker Les Massie through injury, just couldn’t get into the game and were struggling to hold their visitors who threatened more goals. Such was the Quakers’ dominance that the first Halifax attempt at goal didn’t come until the 26th minute when outside right Hugh Ryden fired wide from long range. This was quickly followed by another scare for the visitors when ex-Sunderland centre forward Ian Lawther hit the post with a strong header, but on 41 minutes Darlington scored the second goal that their good play had deserved. Left winger Harry Kirk cut in towards goal and was upended by home centre half John Pickering for a clear penalty. Skipper Ken Hale made no mistake from the spot to make the half time score: Halifax 0 Darlington 2.
Halifax tried to change things by introducing substitute Mark Pearson for Meagan shortly after the break, but if anything the Quakers were even more in control in the second half. Ken Felton made sure his persistence and strong running paid off with a third goal, scored virtually out of nothing. A harmless looking long ball appeared to be well covered by keeper Smith and his right back Ivan Hampton, but under pressure from Felton the Halifax pair got into a terrible tangle and the young Darlington striker nicked the ball between them and rolled it into the net from a narrow angle. The comprehensive victory was completed in the 84th minute when Hale smashed a 35 yard thunderbolt past the helpless Smith. It had been a complete team performance by the Quakers, although special mention was reserved for Hale and O’Neill who ran the game from midfield and also Felton who caused non stop problems up front.
The 4-0 win took the Quakers to the top of the table with three wins and three draws from their six games, with twelve goals scored and only two conceded. The excellent run continued, as the team remained unbeaten for the first fourteen games of the season, eventually losing at home to Exeter City on October 26th. It was February before they eventually lost an away game in the league and they remained in the promotion places until March. Then a disastrous run of five defeats on the trot dropped the Quakers down the table, but they fought back with an unbeaten nine match run that put them right back into contention. With two games remaining, both at home, the Quakers sat in fourth place with a great chance of securing promotion, but they lost them both against Southend and Bradford City.
Halifax produced a 16 page programme, priced at 9d. As was common at the time, it includes very little reference to their visitors. Just a brief introduction to the team, outlining the season so far and who was likely to be playing, along with brief pen pictures of the squad. The team line ups are on the centre pages.
Team v Halifax: 1 Tony Moor 2 John Peverell 3 Brian Keeble 4 Les O’Neill 5 Brian Albeson 6 Joe Jacques 7 Alan Sproates 8 Ken Felton 9 Lance Robson 10 Ken Hale 11 Harry Kirk Sub Tony Lee (not used)