A heroic defensive display and incisive counter attacking performance handed Lancaster City a superb victory at Heritage Park on Wednesday night.
A crowd of 956 filled the stadium in Bishop Auckland, where the reformed Darlington side currently ground-share, but the large home crowd was kept quiet as the Dolly Blues kick-started their promotion push with victory.
The air was cold and the pitch was, in places, akin to a muddy beach but Lancaster adapted well to put in one of their most impressive performances of the season.
Darlington piled on pressure from the off and had the first chance to break the deadlock. David Dowson was the quickest to a lobbed ball over the City defence but Mike Hale sprinted off his line to close the striker down who pulled his shot wide of the far post.
Lancaster also had an early chance when Garry Hunter’s cross was met by the head of Gavin Clark but Darlo keeper Mark Bell produced a fine reaction save to tip the effort wide.
It was all hands on deck for the City defence at times with Ryan Elderton producing two goal-saving blocks, first heading off the line before a last-ditch block to send Stephen Thompson’s effort high over the bar.
City’s goal almost inevitably came from a counter attack and arrived nine minutes before half time.
Clark threaded a through-ball to the feet of Tom Kilifin who raced in on goal, rounded the keeper and tucked the ball over the line before the scrambling Bell could palm the ball away.
The Dollies had a great chance to double their lead on the stroke of half time. Hunter’s free-kick was tipped onto the post by Clark in acres of space with the keeper stranded.
The home crowd, who had not seen defeat in the league at Heritage Park since early November, grew audibly frustrated with the game as the whistle blew with Lancaster edging ahead at the interval.
If the first half was even on chances, the openings of the second half were nothing short of an incredible defensive display from the Dolly Blues.
Hale in the City goal was never tested despite wave after wave of pressure from the hosts as the Lancaster lines closed down every chance and blocked every shot.
When Darlington did create chances, they were outside the box and wide of the target. Thompson, Darlo’s main danger man, had the best of the chances with a dipping volley from outside the box with landed wide of Hale’s left hand post.
One more decisive counter attack then settled the game.
Jordan Connerton chased down Clark’s long ball and was able to step past two defenders and calmly tee up Ryan Winder on the edge of the box. The young winger showed great composure to neatly stroke the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to wrap up the points for City.
Hale had his first, and only, save to make on the stroke of added time as he palmed away a tight angle shot from Thompson before Connerton had the chance to put extra gloss on the game.
Ben Hudson found the striker in space but after a bit of trickery to squeeze through the home ranks Connerton hit the inside of the post and couldn’t beat Bell with his follow-up effort.
The performance and result ranks with some of the great away victories over the years for Lancaster City, and one that may just prove to be the catalyst for the final push in the chase for promotion.
Lancaster City: Hale 9, Henry 9, Steel 9, Marshall 9, Elderton 9, Winder 9, Hunter 9, Walker 9 (Hudson 88), Clark 9, Kilifin 9 (Wearing 86), Connerton 9. Subs not used: Millar, Taylor, Davis
Star man: Glenn Steel - Dominating defensive performance.