14:30 Whatever you are doing with your bank holiday Monday, it needs to go on hold until roughly 5pm. Promotion is at stake – will it be David Black’s Darlington who continue to defy the odds and push for Division 1? Or will Ian Holloway’s Bristol Rovers crash their party? As luck would have it, they are playing each other, so put your feet up and follow the action with this dedicated live text.
14:40 Let’s take a look at the equation as we approach kick off:
As the two sides meet at Feethams today, Darlington must win whilst Bristol Rovers only need to draw to secure their place in Division 1 alongside neighbours Bristol City. The prize for the losers? Well it’s a lovely two legged tie against Cambridge. Some contrast.
14:45 TEAM NEWS
With just quarter of an hour to kick off, the players have just finished their warm-ups at a packed Feethams. Let’s look at some team news.
Darlington are without top scorer Sean Devine who has a strained wrist. Back in my day, footballers would play through broken bones but here we are where a wrist strain has taken out the talisman. Fellow striker Felix Aboagye has gone one further and broken his wrist, so he is not involved either – though he hopes to be available in the playoffs should it come to that. They line up:
Betterton, Davis, Hughes, Duncan, Honeyball, De Vos, Heidenstrom (c), Gaughan, McGivern, Dunn, Craig. Subs: Graham, Cole, Mullins.
Bristol Rovers will be without key wide man Mark Morgan, who failed a late fitness test on a heel injury. Central midfielder Mark Perry is also unavailable with broken ribs, but Chelsea loanee Stuart Brightwell starts. Shaka Hislop gets the nod over Alex Manninger in goal.
Hislop, Harris, Martin, Bodley, Whitworth, Parmenter, Birghtwell, Wright, Bennett, Livingstone, Zabek. Subs: Murray, J Perry, Manninger.
14:50 Feethams is bouncing. Just 10 minutes to kick off.
DarloBill on Twitter: Today is our day! COME ON DARLO
Holloway4King via text: Holloway the superior manager will be the difference today. Come on your R’s!
14:58 Here come the teams – how are your nerves boys?
15:00 KICK OFF. The ball is at the feet of Robert Dunn & Alistair Craig – we are underway!
3 Mins – Bjorn Heidenstrom slips in Alistair Craig but his shot is deflected over. The resulting corner is headed goalwards by Craig but Hislop tips over – strong start from Darlington!
4 Mins – It’s an awful backpass by Whitworth – Heidenstrom is in! Hislop is out quickly to block though and Rovers hack it away
5 Mins – GOAL! Darlington 1 – 0 Bristol Rovers (Robert Dunn)
Gaughan swings a corner in and Craig gets a header on it again. This time it rattles the crossbar and Robert Dunn is on hand to ram in the rebound. All the early pressure from Darlo pays off – chaos at Feethams!
10 Mins – CLOSE
It’s all Darlington. A lovely cushioned header from Dunn allows Gaughan to get a shot away but Hislop palms it away. Rovers need to weather this
13 Mins – YELLOW CARD
The first card of the day for the first real foul – Gaughan holds back Parmenter and is booked. Bit harsh.
17 Mins – First sight of goal for Bristol Rovers as loanee Stuart Brightwell lets fly from range and it goes over the crossbar. Betterton looked comfortable but it dipped alarmingly and only just missed in the end. Signs that the Gas men are starting to settle
Former Darlington striker Mick Quinn on 5Live:
“It was an incredible start from Darlington, who were at it from the first whistle. When I played under Dave Black, he was a great motivator. It showed in the first 15 minutes. But now both teams have come off the pace and that suits Rovers, who were rocking.”
24 Mins – As Mick Quinn says, the game has come off the boil a bit. Rovers will be thankful it’s only one after that start from Darlington, as the stats show.
Rightside_Holte on twitter: This is unbelievable entertainment! Come on Darlington!
42 Mins – GOAL! Darlington 2 – 0 Bristol Roverts (Alistair Craig)
There’s a pile on at Feethams and Alistair Craig is at the bottom. Another neat move ends with Robert Dunn hammering a lot shot that Hislop does well to keep out at all – unfortunately for him, the ball runs loose and Craig is first to the loose ball to hammer his side into a 2-0 lead. Game over?
HALF TIME – Darlington 2 – 0 Bristol Rovers
As it stands Darlington will be promoted and Bristol Rovers will have to settle for the playoffs. What have you got Rovers?
Former Darlington striker Mick Quinn on 5 Live:
“Ian Holloway will be going mad at his team at half time. They just haven’t got going. They’ve let Darlington run all over them, Black likes the wingbacks system and Hughes in particular down the left has been outstanding. Holloway’s 4-4-2 just hasn’t been competitive enough – but there’s a long way to go and the next goal is vital.”
Whilst you enjoy your half time cuppa, let me just remind you of the scenarios
Darlington win: They are promoted
Draw: Bristol Rovers promoted
Bristol Rovers win: Bristol Rovers promoted.
Of course, Bristol City won the division some weeks ago.
If Rovers are to get back into this, they could do with having some shots at goal:
49 Mins – The second half starts similarly to the first, as Darlington rack up some more efforts on goal. Dunn has a shot deflected wide, and from the resulting corner Craig’s header is tipped round by Hislop. The young Scot has been a real handful today in the absence of Sean Devine.
50 Mins – Close again! This time Heidenstrom takes aim and clips the bar. Rovers on the ropes.
53 Mins – It’s Rovers turn to have a go – this time Andrew Duncan is guilty of overplaying at the back and Steve Livingstone takes a snap shot – but it flies over.
58 Mins – Another attack, another Hislop save. It’s Dunn again, this time stealing ahead of his marker at the near post from a Heidenstrom cross. Big Shaka is more than equal to it though.
Come on Darlo! Nearly there now.
69 Mins – GOAL! Darlington 3 – 0 Bristol Rovers (Alistair Craig)
Game, set & match? Andy Harris has a nightmare at the back and miscontrols a high ball. That man Craig is onto it in a flash and sprints through one on one. Once Hislop commits, Craig cooly lifts the ball over him and the majority of the 4,625 at Feethams go mad.
74 Mins – The wind has gone out of Bristol Rovers’ sails now. They need to start preparing for a 2 legged playoff with Cambridge United.
79 Mins – YELLOW CARD
Scott Honeyball, who has been linked with a move away, fouls Lee Zabek on the edge of the box and is booked. Quite cynical but there was plenty of cover. Parmenter wastes the free kick though, and it’s still 3-0.
84 mins – SUBSTITUTION
With the game up, Darlington manager David Black opts to give his captain Bjorn Heidenstrom the applause he deserves from the home faithful. He is replaced by young Irishman Ben Cole
86 Mins – HITS THE WOODWORK
Close to a consolation for Rovers as Frankie Bennett hammers a shot against the crossbar. Not your day son.
87 Mins – GOAL! Darlington 4 – 0 Bristol Rovers (Alistair Craig (Hat-Trick))
What a day for Alistair Craig! It’s fair to say he might not have even started this game if Sean Devine hadn’t hurt his wrist, but he’s written his name into Darlington folklore today. It’s another set piece which Steven Gaughan whips in, Dunn once again gets his head to it and smashes the crossbar. Craig is first to react to head in past a stunned Hislop and it’s bedlam. Darlington are going up!
88 Mins – SUBSTITUTION
Bristol Rovers make a pair of subs, with Frankie bennett and Lee Zabek replaced by Robert Murray & Jason Perry. Bit of a thankless task going on at 4-0 down with 2 minutes to go.
FULL TIME – Darlington 4 – 0 Bristol Rovers – DARLINGTON PROMOTED
What a day for Darlington! Their fans are on the pitch – such is tradition in the lower leagues – and they all flock to Alistair Craig, who is trying desperately to get hold of the match ball. Manager Dave Black is mobbed but it’s all good natured – who would have thought this small club from the North East would make such a big splash in just a few years?
The Bristol Rovers players are off immediately – they want no part of this.
The stats tell the story really – a very one sided contest
Former Darlington striker Mick Quinn on 5 Live:
“Unbelievable performance today. Black got it spot on and they’ve reaped the rewards. It’s a tough one for Rovers to take but they’ll have to pick themselves up for the playoffs. It’ll be some party for these boys tonight! I just hope I’m invited.”
17:02 The last few Darlington players are making their way off the pitch – let’s just confirm those final standings:
17:10 – Darlington manager David Black:
“We knew we had to win today and in many ways that suited us. We’ve scored goals all season and with a draw not being enough, it just seemed to release us. We were brilliant today from the first whistle and never gave them a chance to settle. Get in!”
When asked what he was looking forward to about Division 1
“Well my boyhood club Newcastle are in there, we’ve played them twice in the cup but to say we’re in the same Division as them is unbelievable when you think about it. But we’ve got to go up the division to be competitive, we’re not just going to be there for the days out”
17:17 Rovers manager Ian Holloway
“Gutted. We didn’t get going today and that’s full credit to Darlington. We’ve got some disappointed lads in that dressing room and it’s my job to pick them up before Cambridge get here.”
17:20 That just about wraps up our live text for today, thank you for joining us. Congratulations again to Darlington and we’ll see you soon.
*Needless to say, the quotes by Mick Quinn & Ian Holloway are entirely fictional.
**Also, all twitter contributions are fabricated and I have used some fans of the blog as contributors. Please contact me if you are offended by this.