Simon Weatherill takes us down memory lane
Simon Weatherill continues his Memory Match series with the 3-0 away win at Northampton on 28th December 1999. This piece was originally in the Ashton United programme on 28th December 2018.
1999/2000 was to be George Reynolds’ first season as chairman of Darlington Football Club. Investment in the team, reduced ticket prices and plans for a new stadium made it an exciting time to be a Darlo fan. The football wasn’t bad either! Manager David Hodgson had put together a strong squad that were challenging for promotion from virtually the first day of the season. By the midpoint in the campaign, after the Boxing Day fixtures, the Quakers sat in fourth place in the Division 3 table with 40 points from their 23 games, five points behind leaders Barnet and two points above their next opponents Northampton Town, who sat in fifth place.
The game, on 28th December 1999, would be Darlington’s fourth visit to the Sixfields Stadium. The Cobblers had moved into their new home in 1994 and the Quakers had yet to win there. In three visits they’d drawn one game and suffered two defeats. They warmed up for their trip to Northampton with a goalless draw at home to Hull City on Boxing Day in front of a Feethams crowd of 7058. Manager David Hodgson would make one change from that team for the game two days later. Peter Duffield dropped to the bench to be replaced by Danish striker Jesper Hjorth who would be making his first start for the club. Hjorth had signed in November and had six substitute appearances to his name so far. Northampton had drawn 2-2 at Southend on Boxing Day and made three changes for the Darlington game. Roy Hunter, Lee Howey and Simon Sturridge were replaced by James Hunt, former Quaker Richard Hope and Carlo Corazzin. The final fixture of 1999 featured fifth place at home to fourth and was sure to produce a close encounter.
A crowd of 6823 were at Sixfields to see the game. They saw the home side start brightly and take control of the early stages. As early as the second minute Carlo Corazzin headed a corner just over the bar, then Steve Howard, the former Hartlepool striker, headed weakly into Mark Samways’ hands when well placed. In a rare attack the Quakers had a penalty appeal turned down when Marco Gabbiadini appeared to be barged to the ground while controlling a Michael Oliver cross. Corazzin continued to look dangerous for the home side and he had another headed chance which he put straight at Samways. Then he turned provider when he beat two defenders down the right and squared the ball to Sean Parrish who fired his shot straight at Samways from 12 yards out. Completely against the run of play Darlington took the lead in the 17th minute. Gabbiadini picked up a loose ball 30 yards out, advanced to the edge of the penalty area and drilled a low left footed shot into the bottom corner of the net across home keeper Keith Welch. Northampton continued to push forward but were unable to score as the visitors’ goal led a charmed life. The Quakers nearly increased their lead on 35 minutes when Neil Heaney won the ball on the right wing, cut inside and hit a left foot shot, unfortunately straight at Welch. Darlington did score a second two minutes later with a superbly worked goal. Heaney found Gabbiadini, who’d made a run down the right. He reached the bye line and cut the ball back to Jesper Hjorth, who drilled a first-time half volley into the bottom corner of the net from 12 yards out.
The Quakers still looked shaky at the back though. In the closing moments of the half Samways was forced into making two good saves to keep the Cobblers out, first from Ian Hendon, closely followed by an even better save from James Hunt.
Half time Cobblers 0 Quakers 2.
Darlington began the second half on the attack and trying to add to their two goal advantage. Gabbiadini played in Hjorth who raced clear of the defence and tried to chip the keeper, but Welch read it and saved easily. A minute later Hjorth returned the favour when he set up Gabbiadini but he lost control at the vital moment with just the keeper to beat. Northampton hit back with a quick free kick and a David Savage cross into the box, but Neil Aspin read the danger and made an excellent interception.
Darlington scored their third goal on 53 minutes. Gabbiadini picked up the ball in midfield and ran at the home side’s penalty area. He played a neat one-two with Hjorth on the edge of the box, before twisting and turning past the last defender Hendon and passing the ball into the bottom corner of the net past the helpless Welch, in front of an impressive contingent of travelling fans. The Quakers were in complete control now and dominated the rest of the game. Northampton were a well beaten side and never really threatened to get back into it.
Full time: Northampton 0 Darlington 3.
The win kept the Quakers in 4th place in the table. The good form continued and six wins on the trot in February and early March left them in a great position to claim one of the three automatic promotion places available. They sat in third place, with a 6 point cushion over the teams that were chasing them. Then things went horribly wrong and a disastrous run of only two wins in the last twelve games of the season saw them slip into fourth and have to settle for a place in the play-offs. (During this run they suffered their one and only home defeat of the season, 0-1 in the return match with Northampton.)
Northampton produced a 72-page programme priced at £2. There’s plenty of reading material, including a page of interesting facts about Darlington, a page of links between the two clubs and three pages about the current Quakers squad, although some of the photos could have been a bit more up to date! (There are four Darlington players pictured. Brian Atkinson in the Soccerdome kit of three years previous, Lee Nogan in his Grimsby days, Neil Aspin in Port Vale kit and Andy Collett in his Rushden and Diamonds kit.)
Team v Northampton: 1 Mark Samways 2 Craig Liddle 3 Paul Heckingbottom 4 Martin Gray 5 Steve Tutill 6 Neil Aspin 7 Brian Atkinson 8 Michael Oliver 9 Jesper Hjorth 10 Marco Gabbiadini 11 Neil Heaney Subs 12 Phil Brumwell (not used) 13 Keith Finch (not used) 14 Glenn Naylor (replaced Heaney, 79 mins) 15 Lee Nogan (replaced Hjorth, 67 mins) 16 Peter Duffield (replaced Gabbiadini, 88 mins.)