Thursday, 19 April 2012

Down Amongst The Dead Men

Despite the weather forecast it was turning into a really nice day as we left Da Vincis and caught the usual 8:30am train north.

But it didn't take long for the day to take a nasty turn - we lingered at the platform in Peterborough for about ten minutes and were told there were signal problems ahead between Grantham and Newark.  Then came the news that our train was cancelled!

Martin hadn't even noticed as he was too engrossed working out his bets for the day but we dutifully de-trained and waited for more news.  I feared the worse, worried my drinking would be severely curtailed, and was looking to give it up as a bad job and head back to London.

I called Liz - at home today - and asked her to check online - buses were being sent to take us north so we walked over towards the main entrance. As we did so, the tannoy announced the 9am departure from KX on platform 3 would take us onwards.  We were just above it so were in a great position to get on before everyone else and bagged a couple of seats.

We eventually left 45 minutes behind schedule but the journey from then on was peaceful - save for a noisy baby in front of us - and it was noon as we arrived.  A brief visit to the covered market - family sized quiche and fruit pie for the journey back today - and then into the Quaker.

A veritable feast of DAFTS (and partners) today on duty today - Trev, Brian, John & Bev, Steve & Cath - but my chair had been kept free - thanks guys. Later Sandy (Mrs Trev) and then Lesley joined us.
Pickford collects
Steve Wilkinson, another exile from Darlo, had also made the journey but since he is now safely retired, he'd come up the night before and missed all the fun this morning.

A fairly disappointing choice of beers were on offer with nothing that stood out.  Steve - who'd come up with Cath the night before - told me that there was Taylor's Ram Tam up in Number Twenty-2.  That was enough for me and I moved on.

Unfortunately the Ram Tam had gone by the time I got there but they had Titanic Iceberg, Titanic 1912 (underwhelming),  Brakspears Bitter & Kelham Island Bete Noir Stout.

The massed ranks of DAFTS all took taxis to the ground but we were a bit late getting there and hadn't time to get my 50/50 tickets.  At press reception I bumped into my uncle Ray from Catterick who is still helping his mate Eric.

Down on the pitch, injuries had forced a bit of a reshuffle after Kris Taylor injured himself in training - something behind his knee went pop according to his tweet - and I feared that would leave us up against it today, even against the worst team in the division.

However we didn't start too badly and started to pass the ball around and even exerted some pressure on their defence.  John McReady slipped through the central defenders to give himself a great chance but the keeper got a foot to his shot.

Bath had some decent possession of their own but failed to force Pickford into any major exertion other than to collect the odd high ball.

And then Haydn Hollis bolstered lingering hopes when he put Darlington ahead on 34 minutes.

The centre-back found himself in the penalty area after going forward for an Aaron Brown free-kick. It was not cleared, Adam Rundle played the ball back into the penalty area where Hollis, on loan from Notts County, took a touch before turning and shooting past Glyn Garner.

That was one of the few notable moments during a moderate first half lacking in any real incident.

Haydn Hollis shoots and scores
That there was so little quality on show was no surprise given that the game was between the teams positioned 22nd and 24th in the Conference.

But Darlington had clearly been the better side, improving as the half wore on against the part-time opposition.

The second half was similar, though neither keeper seriously tested for lengthy spells, but what appeared to be a match-clinching second goal came on 81 minutes.

It was a smart strike too, Adam Rundle volleying home from inside the penalty area after meeting a cross by teenage winger Danny Lambert.

Lambert had just come on as substitute, replacing Neil Wainwright who was carrying a calf strain as was Paul Arnison who returned to the side at right-back.

The two-goal cushion meant victory looked assured and, with relegation rivals Newport and AFC Telford unable to win, the fight against the drop looked likely to continue.

But within two minutes of Rundle’s goal, Bath pulled one back through Alex Russell.

The ball fell kindly to him outside the penalty area and he connected well with a lob that drifted over Jordan Pickford’s head.

The goal rocked Darlington and invigorated Bath who sensed blood and they got it in the dying minutes.

Murray dribbled towards the back-peddling defence, cut inside from the left and delivered a low strike beyond Pickford to salvage a draw and sink Darlington.

That Murray celebrated the goal by running across with the width of the pitch to goad some home supporters appeared wholly unnecessary, and hardly the conduct expected of an experienced player.

Adam Rundle celebrates
Darlo's second goal
But his reaction was not among Darlington’s major concerns on a very sad day for the football club as they dropped into the Conference North for the first time in our history.
As is often the case with such results, everyone felt like we'd been beaten as we trooped along Newsham Road.
It was all a bit subdued on the way home and we just got stuck into our pastries and pondered the future games next season (including the lack of southern games).
We were back at King's Cross for a respectable time and we found the place was full of Liverpool fans celebrating their semi-final win over Everton. Thankfully there were none to be send around the Euston Tap when I got there.

I settled in for the rest of the night with some excellent beers - De Molen Vur &Vlam, Bristol dry-hopped Independence and,Californian, Summer Wine Teleporter and finally a collaboration from Steel City and Arbor Ales called DCLXVI which came in at 6.66%. 

Also enjoying a few beers was the Masterchef 2011 winner - Tim - who used to work at the Tap.  A little worse for wear on this occasion.  He and the staff were enjoying grass-based liqueur cocktails with a half-piny lager chaser - very odd.

As I left I handed the remnants of our pies to the staff who were feeling a bit peckish.  I headed off and caught one of the last tubes homeward. Unfortunately I slept beyond my stop and woke up at Barking with no further tubes running. Thankfully there was a bus outside to take me not far from my doorstep. Phew!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bank Holiday Massacre

Finally it seems as if I'm free of engineering work on the tube - certainly for the rest of the season and hopefully until the Olympics and beyond.

Martin met me at Da Vincis - thankfully open on a bank holiday - and for once made the day of the female waitress by ordering a breakfast rather than his usual "just tea".

A peaceful trip north though on the way we got a text from Liz confirming that Rotherham had - as rumoured earlier in the week - taken on Steve Evans as manager.  That will be popular.

Ultimate embarrassment  as Louis scores
We had to remember to get off at Newark, rather than head for Darlo, where we had a short wait for the connecting train for the 30-min journey to Lincoln.

We had time for a quick peruse around Waterstones before hiking up to the other end of the High Street where the Golden Eagle had opened at the very reasonable time of 11am.

This pub was the original DAFTS Pub of the Season quite a few years ago and it hasn't changed much in the intervening years.  It is still part of the Castle Rock chain and this is reflected in the beers at the bar: Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Sparrow and Hebridean plus a couple fo Batemans - XB and Eggs-B, plus RSX from Red Squrrel.

Maybe I wasn't in the mood but the beers didn't seem brilliant - the normally reliable Harvest Pale wasn't as crisp and refreshing as it should be - in fact it tasted a little malty - and the others didn't appeal much more.

Still there was a big pot of chilli at the bar which Pete Stockill tucked into.  We were joined by Brian as well but that was the extent of the DAFTSness today.

Martin wandered off to the bookies and then Pete and I headed off early-ish to the ground - the weather wasn't brilliant but wasn't as wet as forecast. Fingers crossed it wouldn't get worse.

In the ground I met up with the Lincoln photographers - Graham and Andrew - a real nice pair who always look after you and it was good to catch up with them again.  We discussed our respective clubs and like us Lincoln are not in a happy place - crowds are down and the football is poor with no sign of improvement or investment.

Red card for Paul Johnson
Both clubs today needed a win to stand any chance of avoiding relegation, although Lincoln were in a much healthier position whereas Darlo were doomed unless there was a miracle of biblical proportions.

It seemed that the Lincoln players were more aware of this than the Quakers and other than for a short spell at the start of the game, Darlo were on the back foot throughout.

Lincoln had a couple of chances but only wayward finishing and a good tackle from Johnson kept the scores level.

McReady was working hard in midfield whilst Bowman and Broughton beavered away but got very little out of the Lincoln defence.  The referee seemed to think it was Christmas and not Easter judging by the number of free kicks he gave to their central defenders, with Gowling falling to the ground repeatedly.

Lincoln's early pressure paid off when Pickford parried a well-hit free kick only for Lincoln MOTM Lloyd to tap the ball home.

It wasn't long before the home team doubled their lead after a cross came in and the Darlo defence were beaten to the ball by Taylor who headed in.

And then from a similar move, former Darlo player and journeyman superior, Jefferson Louis, headed the ball past Pickford to make it three-nil. If only he'd shown this much gumption when he'd been with us.

Wainy - what am I doing here?
Neil Wainwright - playing at right-back but never looking comfortable - failed to cut out a ball which allowed Lloyd to break free and shoot - it took a deflection off Johnson and gave Pickford no chance. Four-nil!

And then to top off the first half, Johnson was adjudged to have fouled Louis on the edge of the box and the ref continued his Santa act and duly produced the red card. As if Lincoln needed any further advantage!

Wainwright failed to come out for the second half as Paul Arnison came on and Kris Taylor moved back to replace Johnson.  The balance was better and Darlington started to keep possession and move forward with purpose but the home keeper was rarely threatened.

Lincoln continued to make chances and Pickford made a couple of excellent saves and it seemed we might keep it scoreless for the second half.  And then that man Louis hit the post with a shot before scoring his second with a simple header form close range.

There was a late shout for a Darlo penalty when it seemed Rundle's shot was blocked but there was to be nothing for us today.  Poor old Lidds was pulling out what little hair he had left and you had to feel for him.

The referee blew for time and thankfully that was it so that the Darlo fans - just over 170 hardy souls - were spared further pain.  They had been supportive throughout with plenty of gallows humour and they clapped the players off, seemingly to their embarrassment.

It seemed the other results were such that it looked as if relegation would be confirmed but it transpired that the west of England had a lot more rain than us - the Telford -v- Tamworth game had been abandoned and so our fate was on hold for another week.

Although we were booked to leave Lincoln after 6pm, I persuaded Martin to leave on an earlier train to Newark Castle station.   As we alighted there, the heavens opened but thankfully it was short-lived.

We wandered through the town and headed for Northgate station. As we did I made sure we went a certain way so that we could call into the DAFTS-renowned Appleton Gate Fish Bar.  Haddock and chips was the order of the day.

We tucked into it in one of the waiting rooms - envious (or maybe nasty) glances from fellow passengers - it was only when we left we saw the sign saying "Hot Food Not To Be Eaten In Here". Oops!

Our train was on time though not surprisingly it was standing room only unless you had a reservation. After a nice cuppa and a little snooze, it wasn't long before we were back at Kings Cross.

It would have been nice to drown our sorrows with a few beers at the Euston Tap but with it being back to work the next day, we just headed off home.
Craig Liddle doing never gives up