This match was supposed to be a no contest. The mighty ex-league club, now re-named Darlington 1883, had won 7-0 away in their last fixture. Salford City had been trounced 5-2 on Boxing Day…
…Darlington had a full squad of players, nicely rested after no Boxing Day match. Salford City had only 14 fit players – including a new keeper, Daniel Fradd, who the team only met for the first time when he arrived at the ground, and a new midfielder, Phil Edghill, who was picked up en route by the team bus at the motorway services.
1,514 Darlington fans – their biggest crowd of the season – had come to watch Salford - average crowd around 120 - being mauled. Instead they got one hell of a fright as the patched up Ammies took the game to Darlington, outplaying them in the first half which saw Mark Battersby skid a Danny Browne cross just wide in the opening exchanges, and Matty Purcell hammer home from the edge of the area in the 32nd minute to give Salford the lead. 0-1.
Meanwhile, on rare Darlington attacks, the defence, led by the commanding Aaron Walters and Warren Gaskin, stood firm and when the Quakers broke through, keeper Daniel Fradd made some outstanding saves.
But the first half was all about Salford dominating possession, controlling the midfield and scaring the pants off Darlington every time they went forward, to the point where defenders were just lumping the ball out of play at every threat.
Mark Battersby, who had been the epicentre of that threat, went off injured shortly before half time, to be replaced by Ryan Humphries, one of only three Salford subs.
The hairdryers in the Darlington changing room obviously weren't working at half time because after the interval Salford continued to dominate, and in the 52nd minute Stuart Cook, returning from injury after a brilliant start to the season, walloped a world class screamer into the net from outside the area to double the Ammies lead. 0-2.
The huge Darlington crowd fell silent. Their team flat, play-off hopes in tatters, Salford rampant… And then, with around 25 minutes left, the game turned…
Ammies' centre forward, Rio Ahmadi, went off injured and centre half, Otis Gorman, came on out of necessity to play up front. Within two minutes of being on the pitch, however, he got sent off along with a Darlington player, after the pair had tussled and reacted `violently', according to the referee and linesman. In the ensuing melee, the Darlington assistant manager was also sent off for violently moaning.
The mess seemed to galvanise Darlington and disrupt Salford. And from thereon in it was one way traffic, as the Quakers poured forward against a tiring Ammies team.
It was unrelenting pressure but the unknown keeper, Daniel Fradd, was superb, making a series of outstanding saves, the best of which saw him tip a vicious shot onto the underside of the crossbar, the ball bouncing down onto the line and away.
With eight minutes to go Salford cracked, as Fradd couldn't keep out a fizzing shot that squeezed in at the near post. The Quakers had a goal and fresh hope. 1-2.
A third Salford forward, Matty Purcell, was replaced by midfielder Josh Messer as the Ammies tried to hang on to the lead. But with no outlet up front, apart from youngster Ryan Humphries - who battled manly against three giant defenders – the ball just kept coming back into danger zones.
Darlington hit the bar and had another shot cleared off the line but in the final minute got the equaliser after a goal mouth scramble in which Salford players were convinced there was a handball. 2-2. With six minutes injury time to play.
Darlington galloped forward looking for the win but Salford and man-of-the-match keeper, Daniel Fradd, held firm to get the point which would have been grasped with both hands, feet and teeth before the kick off.
A great game in which every single Salford player – some playing out of position, some barely fit and some who'd never met their team mates before - gave everything.
The Darlington supporters, meanwhile, were the best Salford City fans had met in this league – no anti-Salford chanting, none of the animosity you get at pathetic hillbilly clubs. They were friendly, welcoming and gracious in their assessment of the game. A class club that, in time, will surely go back to the Football League where they belong.
For Salford City, it's the local derby next up on New Year's Day, at Moor Lane against Radcliffe Borough. 3pm kick off. After this performance, the Ammies deserve a big crowd to cheer them up the league…
Photos by Andrew Goudie