Football: Dickov denies brave Darlington

Darlington 1 Manchester City 1
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PAUL DICKOV answered his manager's prayer and steered calamity club Manchester City away from an ignominious FA Cup exit and their own particular hall of shame.

For all the world it looked as though that is where they were heading last night as they came perilously close to falling to Third Division Darlington.

But just when it looked as though veteran Gary Bennett's early goal had handed Darlington something of a famous victory, God looked in on City and decided the purgatory had to end. It did, too, when Joe Royle's side finally got their unpolished act together and earned themselves a replay thanks to Dickov's deadly volley.

Now they just might avoid the embarrassment of being knocked out of the cup by a team which did not cost a single penny in transfer fees, and which finished the tie a man short. The Quakers had midfield player Steve Gaughan sent off after he had manhandled referee Barry Knight in over- enthusiastically pursuing what seemed to him an obvious penalty.

Despite the fact that his team got away with it there was always a suspicion that Royle's outfit had gone into an evening where their own reliability was going to be called into question even more than the Darlington pitch which has been the subject of official investigation.

Whilst the surface did offer the occasional irregular bounce it played, in the main, a shade more convincingly than City were able to at times.

Marco Gabbiadini, a striker who has been around, sought to expose the flaws in City's defence and had plenty of chances in the early moments.

At one stage from an intelligent flick-on he gave Mario Dorner a chance to score even earlier than his team did. But at the first time of asking City's teenage goalkeeper Nick Weaver stood up to his task.

That, though, proved only a postponement of the goal City seemed destined to conceive, and when it came the construction involved a trio of former Sunderland players.

Gaughan's corner was flicked on by Gabbiadini and Bennett celebrated his 37th birthday in style by stabbing home at the far post. Bennett, a 1992 FA Cup finalist with Sunderland, started his long career at Maine Road where he was discarded early. This was clearly payback time.

A succession of crude challenges brought bookings for three City players and highlighted their level of desperation.

But after home goalkeeper David Preece denied Andy Morrison he was finally beaten by Dickov's exquisitely struck equaliser 20 minutes after he came on as a substitute.

Darlington (3-5-2): Preece; Liddle, Tutill, Bennett (Brummel 45); Reed; Gaughan, Atkinson, Naylor, Barnard; Gabbiadini, Dorner (Oliver 78). Substitutes not used: Leah, Carter, Samways

Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Edghill, Morrison, Wiekens; Mason (Dickov 59), Pollock, Crooks, Vaughan, Russell; Goater, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Brown, Bishop, Tiatto.

Referee: Mr B Knight (Orpington)