Simon Weatherill continues his excellent Memory Match series by looking back at the game against Hull City on 1st November 1997.
The 1997/98 season kicked off with David Hodgson in his second spell as Darlington manager. He’d rejoined the club in the previous November, taking over from the sacked Jim Platt. He spent the summer reshaping the squad that had finished in a disappointing 18th place in the previous seasons Division 3 table. Paul Newell, Gary Twynham and Anthony Carss were amongst those that left the club and new signings included goalkeeper David Preece from Sunderland, striker Lee Turnbull from Scunthorpe, full back Alan Gray from Bishop Auckland and two players who flew in from Canada. Goalkeeper Lucas Papaconstantinou and full back Willie Guimarra joined Jason De Vos to bring the Canadian contingent at the club up to three.
The team made an awful start to the season and won only one of their first eleven games, and that was only secured with two very late Glenn Naylor goals in a 3-2 win over Swansea. They secured their second win of the season 5-1 against crisis club Doncaster Rovers but by the time that Hull City visited Feethams on November 1st the Quakers sat fourth from bottom in the table with just two wins from 14 games and 12 points. Their opponents sat one place below them, level on points, but with a worse goal difference.
Hodgson had strengthened his squad in mid October by signing two Austrian internationals. Striker Mario Dorner and defender Franz Resch had been released by Motherwell after short contracts and Hodgson wasted no time at all in snapping them both up. Resch had 5 full international caps, while Dorner had 14 under 21 caps. One player whose place was in doubt for the visit of Hull was Darren Roberts. Transfer talks were ongoing for the centre forward with Northampton Town. The Cobblers had offered £30,000 but Hodgson valued him at £100,000, so the transfer was unlikely to happen, but Roberts had been unsettled by the speculation. In the end Hodgson decided to stick with the team’s top scorer. Also in the side was Simon Davey, on loan from Preston North End. City were managed by Mark Hateley and their team would include Greg Rioch, son of Bruce, and David Rocastle, the former Arsenal winger, currently on loan to Hull from Chelsea. The game would kick off at 1pm to avoid clashing with the fireworks display in South Park later in the day.
A crowd of 2893 turned out at a three sided Feethams to see the game. (The old East Stand was in the process of being demolished to make way for a new structure.) They saw the Quakers make a great start to the game and take the lead after only 10 minutes. Franz Resch made progress down the left and pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot where it was met by the onrushing Simon Shaw who calmly side footed the ball into the bottom corner of the net at the Tin Shed end of the ground. Darren Roberts and Mark Barnard, playing in an advanced midfield role, both had chances to extend the lead before City hit back and equalised on 28 minutes. Midfielder Adam Lowthorpe crossed a low ball into the box from wide on the right to Warren Joyce, who was allowed time and space to turn and fire past David Preece in the home goal. Half time 1-1.
The visitors took the lead nine minutes into the second half with a great individual goal by their skipper Greg Rioch, although he was helped considerably by some dodgy Darlington defending. Rioch picked up the ball in his own half and ran 40 yards completely unchallenged before firing into the net from the edge of the box.
Their lead lasted only three minutes as the Quakers bounced straight back. Mark Barnard broke free down the left and crossed to the far post where an unmarked Mario Dorner volleyed home for his first goal in English football. The home side went back in front on 68 minutes when a free kick from the right by Simon Davey was met with a towering header by Jason De Vos at the far post. City hit back and created several chances to equalise with the home goal living a charmed life. They got the goal that their play deserved in the 83rd minute but it was again as a result of comical defending. Skipper Andy Crosby and Barnard got in each other’s way as they tried to deal with a through ball and City substitute Gavin Gordon nipped between them and beat Preece from the edge of the area. The end to end play continued and Darlington grabbed a dramatic winner two minutes from time. Davey and Shaw combined to play in Carl Shutt down the right and his low cross was forced home by Darren Roberts at the near post.
Roberts’ winner in the 4-3 thriller was his 8th goal of the season. (He’d also had two goals disallowed during the Hull game.) After the match Hodgson announced that his top scorer would be staying with the club. Northampton had increased their offer to £55,000 but the Quakers had turned it down and the deal was now dead. The victory failed to kick start the Quakers season, and they struggled along at the wrong end of the table for the rest of the campaign. They registered only one away win, 2-0 at Doncaster in February, and collected only 9 points on their travels – their worst return for over 40 years – and they finished in 19th place with 54 points. There were five teams that finished below the Quakers in the table. Doncaster were suffering a severe financial, owner induced crisis and finished bottom, and were relegated to the Conference. They had only four wins all season and finished with 20 points. The other four teams below Darlington make for interesting reading. Less than 20 years ago and four of the bottom five places in the Football League were occupied by Swansea, Cardiff, Hull and Brighton. How quickly things change in the world of football.
The programme for the 1997/98 season consisted of 32 pages, of which 12 were adverts. It cost £1.50 and was printed by Mawers Talbot Print. Full colour throughout, the front cover was a photo from a previous game. Inside were columns by manager David Hodgson and chairman Bernard Lowery, News Desk, Journalist’s View, Division 3 Review, two pages on today’s opponents, a page of current season statistics, action photos from a previous game, Encounters (a look at previous matches with our visitors by Frank Tweddle), In The Spotlight (featuring one of the first team squad), Team News (injuries, suspensions etc), a supporters club page, results and line-ups for the current season and the team line-ups on the back cover.
Team v Hull : 1 David Preece 2 Simon Shaw 3 Franz Resch 4 Jason De Vos 5 Andy Crosby 6 Richard Hope 7 Brian Atkinson 8 Simon Davey 9 Darren Roberts 10 Mario Dorner 11 Mark Barnard Subs 12 Carl Shutt (replaced Hope, 56 mins) 13 Kenny Lowe (not used) 14 Michael Oliver (replaced Resch, 76 mins)