Reds were left to reflect on gallant failure as they made their exit from the FA Cup having played their part in a thrilling encounter. The National North outfit certainly finished the stronger and deserved the victory but the game was evenly poised for a good seventy minutes or so.
And manager Danny Grainger expressed his pride in the performance against a team he considers to be in a false position. “They are a far better side than their current standing suggests and it won’t be long until they start climbing the table,” he said.
Darlington named former Workington player, Jacob Hazel, on their bench whilst Niall Brookwell lined up for Reds against the team he played for last season.
After a slow start in what looked like a 4-1-4-1 formation, Workington found themselves a goal behind in the fourteenth minute. Jordan Windass’ low cross from the right was only partially cleared and Tom Platt met the ball twenty yards out steering the ball into the bottom corner of Jim Atkinson’s net.
Yet, after being under the cosh for that opening period, Reds gradually grew into the game and when they had the ball used it well. Their equaliser was trademark Workington under Grainger – a beautiful passing move from back to front involving Sam Smith, Atkinson, Ceiran Casson, Steven Rigg and Scott Allison – culminating in Rigg rounding the Darlington ‘keeper, Tommy Taylor, and netting his first goal of the season.
Two further chances saw a David Symington thunderbolt blocked and a Dan Wordsworth effort deflected wide for a corner.
At the other end, Darlington thought they had regained the lead via Andrew Nelson’s goal-bound shot until Finlay Wallbank cleared off the line in spectacular fashion.
Darlington started the second half as they had the first and had Reds pinned deep in their own half. The visitors remained resilient, though, and two great opportunities came their way and had either of those been taken the outcome may have been different.
Brookwell won possession wide on the right and cut inside with space to exploit. His goal-bound shot looked destined for the far corner until, bizarrely, the ball hit Symington and was eventually cleared.
Then Taylor kept his side level with a brilliant reflex save preventing Allison adding to his impressive tally in the competition. The latter met a cross from the left but a sweetly hit volley was, somehow, kept out by the ‘keeper.
Workington never seriously threatened after that and Darlington took full advantage of the reprieve.
Atkinson was twice called into action in quick succession, saving well to thwart Hazel and then Platt before Wallbank made another goal line clearance as Darlington turned the screw.
They forced a number of corners and from one of those, in the seventy-second minute, regained the lead. Will Hatfield’s flag kicks had been a threat all evening and this one was directed towards the far post and headed back into the danger area. Toby Lees read the situation well and powered home a header from close range.
Atkinson made another couple of outstanding saves but Darlington kept up the pressure and their direct approach produced a third goal as the game entered stoppage time.
Mitchell Curry got away on the left and his square ball inside found Hazel and he sealed Darlington’s convincing victory by converting his first of the season from close range.
It was a tough night for Reds but they acquitted themselves well and their efforts were appreciated by the large travelling support that made the journey across the A66.
Darlington: Taylor, Windass (Hedley, 66), Lawlor, Lees, Sukar, Moke, Platt, Hatfield, Nelson (Hazel, 62), Felix, Salkeld (Curry, 69). Substitutes – Liddle, Mustoe, Griffiths, Harker (not used).
Workington: Atkinson, Wallbank, Bell, Wordsworth, Smith, Casson (McCaragher, 80), Symington, Brookwell (Hubbold, 66), Rigg (Moore K, 59), Allison, Tinnion. Substitutes – Moore L, Leslie, Roxburgh, Tait (not used).
Referee: Declan Brown, Manchester
Bookings: Windass, Sukar, Moke, Platt, Felix (Darlington)