WHITBY Town turned in a poor performance on Saturday as Conference Premier Darlo made their two-division lead count with former Northern Premier hotshot Jamie Walshaw notching a 16-minute first-half hat-trick.
Manager Tommy Cassidy revealed that ex-Sunderland defender Darren Williams has been training with the Blues and is considering a move.
Cassidy could have used him with one of last season’s stand-out stars and a former Darlington player, Kevin Burgess, missing from the centre of defence with work commitments.
The Blues boss made one change with fit-again Dave McTiernan returning as Andy Leeson covered for Burgess at the back.
That reshuffled rearguard was under pressure as early as the sixth minute when Walshaw ghosted in from the right flank unchecked and rifle first-time across goal with right-back Ash Lyth coming away with the ball.
Two minutes later, Walshaw turned provider, putting over a cross from the left that was back-headed against the home crossbar by Liam Hatch.
A further chance just moments later saw former Guiseley frontman Walshaw chip wide when one-on-one with keeper Tom Courtney, on the edge of the Blues’ box.
Hatch and Walshaw again combined on 15 minutes and, this time found the net, when the former’s driven left-wing cross was walked home by Walshaw at the far post.
Former Whitby player Jon McReady, on loan at the Turnbull Ground for two months last season, nearly got in on the act but was denied with his legs by Courtney then sent a header, from the resulting corner, narrowly over the top.
But Walshaw’s tally and the Darlington lead was doubled on 27 minutes. The lively ex-Ossett Town striker left free to beat Courtney with a close range diving header.
And two minutes later, it was three when Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s curling free-kick took a huge deflection from one side of goal to the other, giving Courtney no chance.
If the Blues thought things could not get any worse, they were proved wrong just seconds later as the visitors grabbed a third goal in five minutes. Darlington-based official Mr Smith had no hesitation pointing to the penalty spot after Bridge-Wilkinson and Alex White collided just inside the box and Walshaw slotted home for surely the easiest hat-trick of his career.
The closest Whitby came to a breakthrough was what looked a neat through ball by McTiernan but keeper Lloyd Saxton beat Andy Campbell to smother the chance, just inside his area.
Half-time substitute Michael Smith almost added to the visitors’ tally two minutes into the restart, but could only nod straight at Courtney.
Bridge-Wilkinson then showed outstanding skill to take a crossfield ball on his chest mid-stride and volley first-time a couple of yards wide from near the left touchline, 30 yards out.
The usual raft of changes then took place for both sides, with former Fylingdales forward Jake Faichney replacing trialist striker Jordan Marshall, but it was one of Darlo’s interval subs who was next to find the net.
The County-Durham side, cheered on by around 200 travelling supporters, were still afforded far too much space and youngster Ryan Bowman took advantage to side-foot into the roof of the net from another driven cross on 54 minutes.
The same player was then left unmarked again to nod home his second and Darlington’s sixth on the hour.
Sam Hodgson, introduced at the same time as Faichney, was then perhaps lucky to just get a telling off after leading with his studs on Adam Quinn. Darlington boss Mark Cooper reacted smartly in replacing the irate Bridge-Wilkinson.
Courtney then saved low to his left from Phil Gray’s free-kick and moments later, Leeson side-footed off his own goal line after Smith drilled across the byline from the right flank.
At the other end, 22-year-old Faichney exchanged passes with 32-year-old Campbell and fired past Saxton, only for the offside flag to rescue the Quakers’ defence.
Cassidy replaced Campbell with Rob McDermid 17 minutes from time, and for the first time, Town started to pressure the visitors’ defenders on the ball with McDermid and Faichney backed up by the likes of Mark Robinson and White down the left.
It was no coincidence that Town enjoyed their best spell at this point and grabbed a consolation goal when the strike pairing combined.
By now, Darlington had replaced keeper Saxton with youngster Jordan Nixon and he was bravely beaten in the air by McDermid for Faichney to follow up and head home the loose ball.
After the match, Cassidy told the Whitby Gazette: “It was expected, they’re one of the favourites to win the Conference this year.
“We didn’t play well in the first half at all, but it’s a learning curve. It showed me what some players can do and what they can’t do and that’s the idea of pre-season games.”
Despite their manager’s reasoned initial response, some players might be looking over their shoulder with more newcomers expected this week.
Cassidy added: “We weren’t very good on the ball and we weren’t very good off it, though we were a wee bit better second half.
“The result doesn’t mean a thing to me and we’ve just got to get going again at Bridlington on Tuesday night, but we’re a bit further forward in knowing who’s going to stay and who’s not.”
Whitby Town: Courtney, Lyth (Daines 80), White, Hassan, Leeson, Ellison (Blackford 69), Martin (Hodgson 52), McTiernan, Marshall (Faichney 52), A Campbell (McDermid 73), Robinson (c). Sub not used: Calvert (GK). Attendance: 345