Mossley 2 - 6 Darlington

As the years come and go and the names and faces change, one thing remains constant at Seel Park: Mossley's ability to press the self-destruct button in big games.

Cups, big prize money, the chance for a moment in the spotlight, all of them hone tantalisingly into view every so often, calling to us like the Sirens did to ancient mariners. The analogy doesn’t end there either because just like those Greek ships and sailors who were tempted by the charms of the three unearthly women, we usually end up getting dashed across the rocks too; a look that’s a cross between anger and stunned disbelief on our faces as we disappear beneath the foamy waves for the third time. And a quick look at the score line which heads this article (go on, have a glimpse) should tell you that this isn’t going to be the time where I go on to explain in detail the exception to that rule.

For the first 25 minutes of this 4th Qualifying Round FA Cup tie Mossley were arguably the side most comfortable with the way things were transpiring. Apart from a corner in the second minute Darlington hadn't been within sight of the home goal, whereas the Lilywhites had actually forced the Quaker's keeper into making one important save and were starting to make inroads through a huge gap in the left hand side of the visitors defence. All the good work - the potential - though was undone in an instant as mistakes from two people swung the game heavily in the Blue Square Premier clubs favour.

Firstly, and sadly not for the first time this season (or even the last time in this game), Andy Watson dallied far too long on the ball before getting himself in a muddle and gifting the opposition possession. The person bestowed with this extreme act of generosity was Chris Senior who was probably chuckling away to himself about how he was going to open the scoring when he was upended by goalkeeper Peter Collinge who, having come charging towards the edge of his area in an attempt to stop Darlington capitalising on the error, succeeded in only compounding the blunder by giving away a penalty and receiving a red card for his troubles.

And it's at this point that the second mistake I alluded to kicked in. When the teams were being announced prior the match the notable lack of a goalkeeper among Mossley's seven substitutes became a small talking point - mostly revolving about how unwise a decision it was should the worst happen and our starting number one’s game come to an end sooner than expected. Little did we know that this conversation would be quite so prophetic and even littler did we know at the time the precise reason as to why there was no one on the bench to take Collinge’s place in goal.

No, that's not right: there's actually no rationale at all for why we shouldn't have had a replacement ready to come on and fill such a specialist position, especially as there were so many spots on the bench available. For reasons that I hope will be explained sooner rather than later, the Mossley management had allowed our reserve goalkeeper to become cup-tied in an earlier round meaning we couldn't call on his much needed services. But even with this being the case, there was nothing to stop the club bringing in a goalkeeper on a temporary, emergency basis to cover the possibility of us needing one? We and other clubs have done this in the past so why not this time? It’s not as though it’s a situation suddenly sprung upon us. Criticise me all you want for saying this (because I know doing so out loud has become a taboo subject in recent years at Seel Park) but it’s really, really bad management - pure and simple.

Anyhoo, back to the game. Right back Ben Richardson was given the task of trying to stop a professional side scoring a goal for 65 minutes and unsurprisingly he failed just 30 seconds into his task as Tommy Wright fired the spot kick past him. There's a small argument at this point to be had about whether Wright should have been on the pitch himself. Prior to the goal his only contributions to the match were three wild elbows swung into the heads of Mossley players (only picking up a booking for the third one) and a dive on the halfway that was so ridiculous that not only should he have been shown a yellow card, but forced to apologise to everyone in the ground over the p.a. as well for such an embarrassingly poor piece of gamesmanship.

His team mate Chris Moore wasn't quite so fortunate in escaping a booking for amateur dramatics. From where I was stood - admittedly at the opposite end of the pitch - it looked like Richardson in his role as makeshift custodian had taken out the Darlington player as he lined up a shot. Instead of another penalty and another red card though, the triple salco with full pike that Moore embellished his time in the air with persuaded the officials that the whole thing was a nefarious plot to seek an unfair advantage.

The relief didn't last too long though as Mark Bridge-Wilkinson soon doubled the Quakers lead (another beneficiary of Mossley's charitable nature with the ball) and out came the calculators in preparation of tallying up the coming deluge of goals.

Something rather unexpected proceeded to happen though. Rather than sit back in the hope of keeping the score down to low double figures, Mossley began to press forward and six minutes from the interval they halved the arrears. An angled ball from Lee Blackshaw made its way inch perfectly through the aforementioned hole in the Quaker's back line and Mike Oates finished the move with a low shot under keeper Sam Russell. Yes, Quakers and Oates. If we'd won I'd have taken the time to come up with a tortured gag in which that was the punchline so see, even this defeat has a silver lining.

With a tiny bit more luck Mossley might have even grabbed an equaliser before the break as they forced a series of corners which got the visitors defence a little jittery judging by the “words of encouragement” passing between their players. Even though that leveller didn’t arrive, what they had done was enough to suggest that the game might not be quite the walkover for Darlington that people were beginning to expect after Collinge’s dismissal.

That belief lasted until the third minute of the second half when another cock-up at the back gave Senior a clear run on goal and the opportunity to restore his sides two goal advantage. Six further minutes later that hope of an unlikely comeback was rather incredibly back again. As if to prove that anything the Mossley defence could do, they could do worse, Quakers centre half Kevin Austin suddenly seemed to become confused by the small round thing which had appeared on the ground in front of him. Just when it looked like we were about to see a world first: a grown man lose a staring contest with a football, Steve Settle picked up possession and slotted a shot under the advancing Russell to bring the ten men of Mossley back into the match.

For a while the game balanced on a knife edge as it became a question of which defence would wobble next. Unfortunately it turned out to be Mossley’s as Austin atoned for his error by firing home from a corner after being left unmarked on the back post. To be fair to the Lilywhites however an unmarked opponent or two was to be expected given they were down to nine players at the time; midfielder Chris Rowney was on the touchline receiving treatment for an injury as the ball crossed the line.

His absence from the pitch was made permanent though with a quarter of the match still to play when he received a straight red card for a... actually, I don’t know what to call it. To label it a tackle would be giving it a status it frankly doesn’t deserve. It was a spectacularly awful challenge and that the Darlington player was able to leave the pitch without the aid of a stretcher is something we should be thankful for. And to whoever clapped Rowney as trudged off the pitch: Really? That was worthy of applause? A potential leg breaking incident which also left us to play out the last 25 minutes with nine men? I thought we were better than that.

Sorry, did I say nine? What I meant to say was eight because in the bout of handbags that developed after Rowney's moment of infamy, Settle received his second yellow card of the afternoon. What he did during those few seconds of pushing and shoving that was any different to what players in a red shirt were doing is beyond me but off he went, no doubt ruing the first and wholly avoidable yellow card he'd picked up minutes earlier for pointlessly arguing with the referee.

With Mossley now employing a formation that consisted of one man up front and six players dotted across the pitch behind him, the fans sat back and waited for the proverbial cricket score to arrive. Goals did arrive but it didn't turn out to be quite the rout that many probably feared.

Darlington's fifth goal involved a mixture of the bad luck and hopeless misjudgement which had haunted Mossley all afternoon. Watson once again gave the ball away when there was no danger at all but it looked like the error wouldn’t be punished as Gary Smith hit what can only be best described as a pea roller towards goal. However when the gods are against you they really rub it in and as Ben Richardson dropped to stop the shot, the ball hit a divot and bounced over his head and into the net. Five minutes from time Chris Senior completed the scoring with a venomous shot from the corner of the box; a goal as simple and as straightforward as that description makes out.

Between the fifth and sixth goals Mossley themselves went close to adding another to the score sheet and it took a very good piece of goalkeeping to stop Oates firing off a shot after the forward had waltzed through one of the gaps where the visitors defence really should have been.

All it did though was make you wonder what might have been had the game been eleven versus eleven for the entire ninety minutes. Or even ten (including a proper, back-up goalkeeper) against eleven because any visiting supporter who says they were comfortable with a man advantage is kidding themselves.

The Quakers (if you’ll pardon the coming pun) were no great shakes. During the period of time both sides were equal in number they didn’t manage a single shot or put together an attack that didn’t have its genesis in a Mossley defensive mistake. And even at the end of an opening period in which they’d played almost half of it against ten men and a makeshift keeper, they’d only managed two shots on target (one being a penalty) and conceded a goal.

“What might have been” though is a question we ask too many times after games like this. When you look back through Mossley’s recent history the big games always seem to come with a caveat: we played well and but for suspensions/team selections/tactics/indiscipline we would have won, and this one is no different.

From a personal point of view I’m disappointed to read our manager’s post match comments in the print edition of the Oldham Chronicle (they aren’t in the online version) in which he puts the responsibility for the defeat on mistakes made by players. I have no problem with that if he also acknowledges the blunder he made in not having a substitute keeper available, which played just big a part in the loss as the other reasons, but he doesn’t; the responsibility for the loss is put squarely on the shoulders of the players which is a tad unfair. If you’re going to proportion blame after a defeat like this then include a mea culpa or don’t say anything at all.

I’d probably better end this now so that the one or two of you who’ve made it this far can go and bathe your eyes with Optrex and return to everyday life but a final word about the Darlington fans. Apart from three drunk supporters at the end of the game leaning over the balcony outside the clubhouse calling Mossley fans s**t, they were an incredibly friendly bunch.

There wasn’t any of the “we’re better than you” and belittling attitude we’ve come across from some fans of other clubs recently. And yes, by that I do mean Halifax. The difference between the Shaymen and the Quakers was so marked it was untrue, especially when unlike the former, the latter have a more valid reason for acting superior and giving it the ‘big I am’. Because of that I wish them the very best of luck in the next round against Bristol Rovers (the prize we could have won) and with that defence I think they may need it .

Who knows, maybe we’ll get the chance to right the wrongs in this match next year. If we do, lets hope Odysseus isn’t registered to a club and cup tied?