No Birthday Blues For Jason… And A Point For The Blues Oswell!
The Hatters bounced back from their disappointing midweek FA Cup exit in Moston by gaining a well-earned point at Darlington, on the day they became the first club to play a league match at each of the four venues that have ever been home to the ‘Quakers’.
But they so nearly had to settle for travelling back from their first visit to Darlo’s new Blackwell Meadows ground empty-handed – requiring a stoppage-time equaliser by birthday boy Jason Oswell to cancel out a deflected Scott Duxbury own goal from early in the second half.
Both Oswell, who was turning 25, and Duxbury had recovered from the respective injuries that they sustained against FC United at Edgeley Park a week previously, and returned to a starting line-up featuring a 4-4-1-1 formation. Bohan Dixon and Jimmy Ball were the two players to make way, although both were named among the substitutes.
County almost made a disastrous start in the Durham sunshine, after Chris Smalley under-hit a back-pass that was intercepted by Nathan Cartman – but Stephen O’Halloran dispossessed the striker when he was through on goal.
From hesitant beginnings, however, came greater collective self-assurance. And the Hatters went close after 13 minutes when Adam Thomas drilled a low cross from the right that Oswell back-heeled narrowly wide of the far upright.
Two free kicks by Sam Walker then caused the hosts to ‘quake’, as Smalley headed the first beyond the right post and home goalkeeper Adam Bartlett tipped the second over the home bar.
Half-time approached with County enjoying the greater share of possession, although O’Halloran needed to make his second crucial intervention of the afternoon four minutes before the break – keeping at bay a strike by Stephen Thompson.
HALF-TIME: Darlington 0, County 0.
O’Halloran was wearing the captain’s armband upon the resumption, following the half-time substitution of Harry Winter. But his first act in the deputising capacity was to foul Thompson to the right of County’s box. And Terry Galbraith’s in-swinging free kick towards the near post was deflected in after Duxbury’s attempted clearance spun off his left boot and past Ben Hinchliffe.
The Hatters responded well, and within two minutes Connor Hampson cut in before unleashing a shot that ht the right post and bounced off the back of an unsuspecting Bartlett’s head to go behind for a corner.
Hampson was denied again when Liam Marrs beat him to a Thomas cross from the right and cleared off the goal-line. And after Oswell and Thomas had, respectively, half-volleyed and volleyed efforts over, Oswell saw a goal-bound header blocked by Dom Collins.
The Hatters were racing well ahead in terms of the shots-count (and were to end the contest 16-6 up), but in front of their goal Hinchliffe had to be at his best in keeping out both Cartman and Harvey Saunders from close range.
For all these efforts, County looked to be heading for defeat as four minutes of added time were announced. But in the event they needed just the first one in which to salvage a deserved draw.
Following a Hinchliffe clearance, Dixon’s pass out to the right found Dan Cowan, whose cross was collected by Oswell – and, after a deft touch down, half-volleyed home for his 13th goal in all competitions. Nothing in the slightest unlucky about it on this, his big, day, either…!
FULL-TIME: Darlington 1 (Duxbury (o.g.), 47), County 1 (Oswell, 90).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Hampson, Winter (Capt.) (Ball, 46), Smalley, O’Halloran (McKenna, 77), Thomas (Dixon, 83), Walker, Oswell, Stopforth, Duxbury.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Brazel.
Booked: Winter, O’Halloran, Walker.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Pics: Mike Petch