Darlington 1 City 3

Joe Colbeck was left grinning through the pain after showing Darlington the player they had helped turn him into.

City's lightning-quick winger has been bang on form in recent weeks - and was desperate to emphasise that in the north-east.

Having credited his loan spell with Darlo as the quick fix his career had needed, Colbeck aimed to make his mark.

He did that all right - and the rest. The stud marks around a rather sensitive part of his anatomy illustrated the home side's frustration at their failure to halt him.

Richie Foran was rightly red-carded for inflicting that wound but it was nowhere near as deep as the hurt that Colbeck had caused Darlington's promotion chances.

He had joked beforehand that Dave Penney's side would try to nobble him with a big tackle inside the first ten minutes. The comments were even pinned up in the home dressing room.

The retribution actually took 82 minutes in arriving - by which time City were cruising to another three away points.

Darlington's success this season still cannot bring in the crowds. Only 4,492 turned out, including over a thousand from Bradford, and that was still one of the Arena's bigger attendances.

No wonder there are plans afoot for a £12m hotel complex to bring in more bodies. I'm not sure about the idea of a ski-slope though; mud-wrestling would be more appropriate judging by the quagmire pitch.

But not even the boggy conditions could hold up Colbeck or his team-mates, who turned in as good a second-half performance as any this season.

Faced with such a surface, the easy option would have been to play direct and lump it long but City passed and passed; getting the ball down on the deck and looking to play their way round the home side.

The quality of their efforts drew grudging admiration from the home fans. When Colbeck gingerly left the action, it was not only the City supporters who stood to give him a rousing send-off.

City's first appearance in the top half of the table since September will have raised a cheer and a groan in the board room.

While Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes no doubt relished watching one of League Two's big boys getting turned over, it also means the joint-chairmen now have to cough up bonus payments based on positions.

"I think Mr Rhodes and Mr Lawn will be pulling their hair out!" laughed a delighted Stuart McCall.

"But we don't want the season to just peter out. Whatever position we are, there are always things to play for.

"We've got a lot out there playing for their futures and when you get a backing like our fans away from home then you want to reward them.

"I've been pumped up for the game all week and I think you could see that the players were. And it's nice when you get the merits from such a good performance."

Darlington's problems had begun even before kick-off.

Already missing injured strikers Pawel Abbott and Tommy Wright, Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu had to drop out from facing his recent team-mates after straining an Achilles during the warm-up.

But they were given a huge helping hand with a penalty gift after 11 minutes.

Darlington's first corner whipped off a scrum of heads and skidded up against Barry Conlon defending the back post. The contact with his hand, if any, must have been minimal but referee Darren Drysdale had a little think and then pointed to the spot.

Drysdale, as nobody needs reminding, is the guy you don't upset in the car park. Just ask Dean Windass.

And he wasted little time upsetting the entire City side and their fans behind the goal by awarding the penalty which Clark Keltie confidently fired home.

City's play did not seem unduly fazed by the early setback, although Darlington had more of the first-half chances. Alan White, Keltie and on-loan Doncaster winger Craig Nelthorpe were all close as Scott Loach looked a bit out of sorts.

But the Bantams had a great chance to level right before the break as Conlon did well to retrieve Paul Heckingbottom's throw-in and cut it back from the byline. David Wetherall was the furthest forward and stretched out with his left boot but could not keep the shot down.

It was a warning sign to Darlington and McCall's mood at half-time was upbeat despite the scoreline.

He said: "The belief was still there at half-time. There was nothing between the sides and I knew we could come back.

"But I told the lads not just to be happy with getting a point. I wanted to see if we could go back out there and win the game."

His team's response arrived within four minutes of kicking off.

Heckingbottom's long pass out of defence was superbly cushioned by Conlon, who laid it off to Peter Thorne. The striker's low cross was stepped over by Kyle Nix as it ran through for Tom Penford to control and whip in the first senior goal of his career.

It had been six years in coming but well worth the wait. Once again the coltish playmaker was pushing his credentials for another new contract - and hopefully a long overdue change of luck.

McCall's jig of delight on the touchline showed what he thought. But the manager's enthusiasm was clear by the way he spent the entire 90 minutes stood out in the teeming rain in his technical area - no Steve McClaren-style brolly for him!

Nelthorpe's miscontrol in the box denied Darlington an immediate comeback before Thorne almost fired City in front, latching on to Nix's flick-on but firing straight at the advancing David Stockdale.

If anything, the weather and pitch were getting worse. But nothing was going to dampen City's spirits as they grabbed the lead just after an hour.

The goal was similar to the one they had conceded a week before at Rotherham. Heckingbottom's free-kick from the halfway line soared deep into the penalty area and Conlon popped up above the crowd to steer it across the keeper and inside the far post.

For Conlon, who had two previous spells with Darlington, it was a sweet moment. Made all the better because he was stood on almost the same spot on the pitch where he had conceded the penalty.

Darlo launched a brief reprisal and were nearly thrown a lifeline when Penford's attempted clearance sliced Rob Purdie's cross against his own bar.

But City wrapped it up with 11 minutes left, and fittingly it was Colbeck who applied the coup de grace.

Again it was a Heckingbottom clearance that got things rolling. Conlon was the target and as the ball dropped just outside the box, there was Colbeck bustling through to seize control and fire his second goal in a week confidently into the bottom corner.

Darlington had recovered two-goal deficits in both their previous home games but there was no way back this time, especially when hot-headed Foran left them a man short in the closing stages.

The good news is that Colbeck, after singing like a Beegee for a few minutes, is fine. And hopefully ready to deliver an encore at Rochdale on Tuesday night.

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