Watching Alfreton Town these days can be compared to riding a roller-coaster, Saturday’s 4-3 win over Darlington FC at Bishop Auckland coming hot on the heels of the previous week’s 3-5 home defeat at the hands of AFC Fylde.
Intense pressure by the hosts had to be soaked up before the Reds struck from their first meaningful attack in the 23rd minute, Craig Westcarr neatly finding the far corner of the net from the right side of the area after taking a return pass from Liam Hearn, the move stemming from a long ball down the right by Terry Galbraith, Josh Gillies, Mark Beck and Liam Hardy had all gone perilously close to opening the scoring in those early minutes for the previously unbeaten home side, but a combination of weak shooting and determined defending saw Alfreton emerge unscathed by the mid-point of the first half.
The Vanarama National League North pace-setters were visibly shocked at going behind, and it needed a good save by Fabian Spiess from a firmly struck Gillies drive before the Reds broke away again to claim a second goal in the 32nd minute.
Ryan Wilson had won a right-wing corner after Hearn had sent Dan Bradley down the right, Wilson’s delivery from the flag-kick picking out Brad McGowan for a looping header off the bar before the predatory Hearn headed home the loose ball from six yards.
It was the popular striker’s first goal since returning to Alfreton, yet bizarrely the last time that the Reds had won 4-3 in an away game featured Hearn’s first-ever goal for the club on their travels almost eight years earlier in an F.A.Trophy tie, also in the North-East at Blyth Spartans in November 2008.
McGowan was harshly penalised and cautioned for a foul on Gillies on the edge of the area, the latter dusting himself down to plant the ball firmly past Spiess at his near post to reduce the deficit four minutes before half-time.
The majority of the large crowd were still cheering when Alfreton broke yet again, with Hearn, Westcarr and Bradley combining on the right to set up Andy Monkhouse for the sweetest of left-foot drives back across goal and into the net from ten yards.
It was much of the same after the break with Hardy and Gary Brown going close for the Quakers, before Spiess made a reflex save from a shot that rebounded off and ultimately injured Kennedy on the hour.
Spiess was the instigator of Alfreton’s fourth goal in the 64th minute, his long one-armed throw sending Westcarr down the right, with Bradley the recipient of his subsequent cross.
The Reds’ skipper side-stepped a defender before being brought down by keeper Peter Jameson, who only escaped a certain red card when referee Mather allowed play to continue, with Hearn ramming the loose ball home from just outside the six-yard box.
To their credit Darlington continued to press forward, but they were almost caught out yet again on 71 minutes when Brown gifted the ball to Westcarr and Hearn blasted inches over the angle of back post and crossbar in search of his hat-trick.
Five minutes later Gillies struck again with a carbon copy of his previous free-kick which left Spiess sprawling in vain, and by the 77th minute Darlington had reduced the arrears to a single goal when sub Amar Purewal was on hand to steer the ball home from 12 yards after Beck had managed to pull the ball back to him.
A trio of outstanding saves by Spiess from Leon Scott, Gillies and Nathan Cartman undoubtedly kept the Reds in the driving seat as they endured nine minutes of added time, the referee emulating the infamous Clive Thomas by blowing the final whistle just as Wilson was firing home what should have been Alfreton’s fifth goal.
DARLINGTON: Jameson; Hunter (Purewal 71), Galbraith, Turnbull, Burgess, Brown, Thompson (Cartman 62), Scott, Beck, Hardy (Mitchell 62), Gillies.
SUBS NOT USED: Nowakowski, Bell.
ALFRETON: Spiess; McGowan, Kennedy [Heaton 64], Jordan, Allan, Nyoni, Monkhouse, Wilson, Bradley, Westcarr (Smith 90+6), Hearn (Garnett 86).
SUBS NOT USED: Priestley.