By Martin Walker
Newton Aycliffe recorded what was probably the biggest result in their history, beating Darlington at Moore Lane Park.
Danny Earl’s first-half brace was enough to give Allan Oliver’s side the three points, while goalkeeper Scott Pocklington saved a late penalty to seal an historic victory.
The win saw Aycliffe go three points clear of the relegation places in the Ebac Northern League first division, putting them fifth-bottom on 18 points.
Earl had an early chance when he latched on to Pocklington’s long ball in the 11th minute before hitting the side netting.
David Dowson’s glancing header from Stephen Thompson’s right wing cross was well wide a couple of minutes later.
Dowson beat Steve Gibson down the left channel in the 18th minute but Pocklington denied the striker, saving with his legs.
Thompson flashed a shot just over Pocklington’s crossbar from Dowson’s neat lay-off in the 22nd minute.
But first blood went to Aycliffe in the 30th minute when Earl brilliantly took a Kris Hughes ball down to his feet, turned Joe Tait inside-out before drilling past Norton just inside the post.
Aycliffe’s lead lasted just four minutes, though, when Amar Purewal beat Stuart Owen to Adam Nichols’ cross to head over a stranded Pocklington.
But the home side regained their lead in the 40th minute, with Earl getting his second. He robbed Tait about 25 yards out, turned him then lobbed Jack Norton with an exquisite chip.
Darlo almost equalised again on the stroke of half-time when Purewal crossed from the right, but Thompson’s diving header was just wide of Pocklington’s right-hand post.
Both sides produced chances during an open second half, with Darlo dominating possession but failing to hurt Aycliffe.
Thompson shot just wide in the 50th minute, and Purewal skinned Owen down Darlo’s right but his pin-point cross was headed over by Thompson two minutes later.
Aycliffe threatened in the 68th minute when Hughes did well to tee-up Tom Hinchley on the edge of the box, but he ballooned his effort over.
Dowson almost rounded Pocklington in the 69th minute but the keeper recovered well to save.
Substitute Paul Broom then had two great chances to score in the 75th minute. He forced a good stop by Norton, and then his hooked shot was cleared off the line by Gary Brown.
Terry Galbraith’s 80th-minute free-kick from 20 yards flew over the bar after Darren Craddock fouled Dowson.
And late drama had hearts in mouths after James Oliver conceded a penalty when he up-ended Dowson in the box, but Pocklington went the right way to brilliantly deny Thompson’s spot-kick.
Aycliffe held on for a hard-earned and richly-deserved victory in front of 1,032 spectators at Moore Lane Park.
Team: Pocklington, Gibson, Oliver, Craddock, Owen, Tarling (Peck, 89), Hinchley, Young (Knox, 62), Lambert (Broom, 72), Earl, Hughes. Unused: Mellanby, Close.