The Bucks made light of a lengthy Friday trip north to
Darlington to book their place in the next round of the FA Trophy, defeating
league rivals in the process.
Manager Gavin Cowan spoke last week about this tie as being
the one he’d wanted when the draw was made. The spur for Cowan was his team’s
3-0 defeat at Blackwell Meadows in September; that had been their first league
defeat after seven matches and a poor performance to boot. Wanting his side to
go out and right that wrong, Cowan was in ebullient mood afterwards as his side
delivered a display that was as controlled as it was comfortable.
With their side unchanged from last weekend’s win at FC
United of Manchester, the Bucks and Darlington shared a first half that lacked excitement,
but where the Bucks slowly asserted their superiority. However, it was the home
side who came closest to opening the scoring; had they done so, it would have
been almost a carbon copy of Harvey Saunders’ goal for the Quakers against the
Bucks two months ago. With 26 minutes on the clock, Jordan Nicholson latched
onto a ball forward that Dave Syers flicked on and as Andy Wycherley raced out
Nicholson lifted the ball over the keeper. However, the ball came squarely back
off the crossbar and into the arms of a grateful Wycherley.
From that point onwards, the Bucks started to assert
themselves. Darlington lacked any fluidity to their play and all that was
missing was that moment of incisiveness that would have cut the hosts open. The
closest they came was a rising Darryl Knights shot that flashed over the
crossbar five minutes before the break, however the Bucks weren’t to be denied
for much longer.
Within six minutes of the second half commencing the Bucks
were in full control. Their opener came from midfielder James McQuilkin, who
was afforded space 30 yards out to shoot low past the right hand of home keeper
Zach Hemming. The relatively sparse home crowd were fairly quiet anyway, but
four minutes later they were quieter still. The Bucks won a corner on the
left-hand side and captain Shane Sutton got his head to the ball to score from
six yards out, his third goal in four matches. With only a handful of hardy
Bucks fans in attendance, it was largely the Bucks bench that could be heard
celebrating as Sutton wheeled away in celebration.
Darlington struggled to respond to that quickfire double
strike. Simon Ainge, a defender turned goalscoring machine in his time at
Harrogate Town, looked one-paced and was the subject of some disgruntlement from
the home fans. Shortly after he directed a header at Wycherley he made way for
Harvey Saunders as home boss Tommy Wright shuffled his pack, looking to find an
They were, however, handed a lifeline when Bucks’ left
wing-back Steph Morley was sent off in seemingly innocuous circumstances.
Morley and home right-back Luke Trotman, one of their few bright performers,
went into a challenge on half-way, the ball going out for a throw-in. On the
advice of his assistant, referee Aaron Bannister then showed a straight red
card to Morley, presumably for something he said.
That could have been the catalyst for a Darlo revival, but the
Bucks are currently in such good form that they took the knock in their stride,
holding the Quakers at arms’ length. From front to back the visitors showed
more desire and more willingness to work than their hosts, with the forwards
and midfield relentless in their pursuit of the ball. Wycherley was called into
action on only a few occasions, dealing comfortably with what Darlington were
able to muster.
The Bucks’ game management did result in Mr Bannister adding
seven minutes of injury time, but although that excited the home fans their
team were unable to respond, and the Bucks cruised through, to Cowan’s obvious
Trotman, O’Hanlon (Henshall 66), Elliott, Hughes, Galbraith, Nicholson,
Wheatley (Glover 80), Ainge (Saunders 55), Syers, Thompson.
Unused Substitutes: Maddison, Burn.