Avenue come away empty-handed in drab outing
Fellow play-off chasers Darlington clinched the three points on a frustrating afternoon for Mark Bower’s side. Avenue fell behind within just two minutes, as loanee Graham Kelly steered home a Nathan Cartman strike at the far-post. Joshua Gillies then doubled the hosts’ advantage, as his free-kick evaded every player in the box to nestle in the bottom corner. Oli Johnson offered a glimmer of hope late on with a well-placed header, but the damage had been inflicted.
Mark Bower had made three changes from Avenue’s draw with Kidderminster, drafting in Ed Hall to replace Steven Drench between the sticks, and introducing Javan Vidal and Danny Boshell to the midfield in place of Jamie Spencer and Adam Nowakowski.
The changes, however, couldn’t prevent Avenue suffering an early setback with barely two minutes on the clock. Cartman drifted in from the left to attempt to test Hall early on, and his effort was bundled home by Kelly as the left-back attempted to divert the ball from danger.
Despite conceding early, Avenue remained dangerous on the attack and gave Darlington little time to celebrate as they responded with a spell on the front-foot. Adam Boyes found space in the twelve-yard box for the first time shortly after, but couldn’t maintain his composure and failed to trouble Adam Bartlett with a rising volley.
The squandering of a series of chances early on set the precedent for what was to become an issue all day for the visitors, whose lack of composure in front of goal was to be focal point of discussion after the game.
Adam Boyes and Oli Johnson cut frustrated figures in the frontline, as their endeavours came to little reward. Half-chances were all Avenue could muster in the remainder of the first-half, and the interval will have been welcomed by Mark Bower and the fans alike.
With the torrential rain increasing in ferocity, Avenue’s frustrations followed suit. Nicky Clee found Boyes with an inch-perfect delivery, but his downwards header was collected comfortably by Bartlett.
More chances went knocking before Avenue were eventually punished. Gillies swung in a free-kick from the left that appeared to pose little threat, but it remarkably evaded the touch of any player and eventually found the back of the net, to the bemusement of all who looked on.
Opportunities to haul themselves back into the game, however, didn’t dwindle for Avenue. Mark Ross stung the hands of Bartlett with a powerful effort from long-range, which required a strong palm to tip over.
A lull in proceedings followed, until a frantic ten minutes ensued as Avenue strived to salvage something from the game. The ball fell kindly for Darlington substitute Josef Wheatley, but the midfielder couldn’t control his attempt from the edge of the box.
David Syers then came close to sealing the three points with a drilled effort, but Kelly made a fantastically-timed block to deny the forward.
In bizarre fashion, Avenue sprung into life with just minutes left to play. Nicky Boshell’s cross from the left was met by Johnson, who showed excellent composure as he headed home from close-range and liven up proceedings as a climax edged close.
Disbelief followed in the closing sixty seconds of the encounter, as Javan Vidal could only strike the underside of the bar with a chipped effort from close-range, a chance that summarised the issue that had plagued Avenue throughout the game.
Mark Bower’s side now find themselves in 15th place, but have the opportunity to respond quickly when they visit local rivals Harrogate Town on Tuesday.
Avenue: Hall, Ross, Kelly, Wroe (c), Havern (Nowakowski 79’), Toulson, Vidal, D. Boshell (Spencer 86’), Boyes, Johnson, Clee (N. Boshell 65’).
Unused subs: Knowles, Hill.
Darlington: Bartlett, Marrs, Scott, Turnbull (c), Collins, Galbraith, Gillies, Portas (Wheatley 70’), Syers, Cartman (Saunders 76’), Thompson (Caton 84’).
Unused subs: Burgess, Wilczynski.