Bobby Johnson struck after just 70 seconds of Alfreton Town’s National League North encounter at Darlington on Saturday - and that was enough to push the Reds into third spot with a fourth straight win for the first time since 2015, writes Bill Draper.
The hosts made life difficult for Billy Heath’s men, particularly in the latter stages as they threw everything at Alfreton, but the well-organised defence held firm, despite skipper Luke Shiels being sent off for a second caution 10 minutes from time.
Chris Sharp had opened the scoring for the Reds inside 33 seconds last season but the difference then was a total capitulation by the Reds to lose 1-4.
There was no such problems this time around once Johnson had steered home Tom Denton’s flick-on from a long James Clifton throw that clearly caught Darlington napping.
Some resolute defending during the second half, a handful of good saves by Sam Ramsbottom and a slice of luck when the keeper fumbled a shot that fortunately looped up over the crossbar and Alfreton were home and dry.
Shiels’ dismissal also allowed highly rated central defender Martin Riley to make his debut, having been out with an injury sustained in pre-season, and he responded positively to the challenge.
DARLINGTON: Maddison; Trotman, Elliott, Hughes, Burn, Ainge, J.Nicholson, Syers, Styche, Saunders, Thompson. Subs [non used]: Glover, Bancroft, Banks, Kaba, Morrison.
ALFRETON: Ramsbottom; Clifton, Shiels, Gowling, Wilde, Platt [Middleton 72] [Riley 82], Johnson, Chettle [Clackstone 68], Hotte, Peniket, Denton. Subs not used: Bacon, T.Nicholson.
Referee: Adam Heczeg.