Football: Wycombe given Case to answer: Simon O'Hagan sees a class struggle as the club in a no-win situation thwart upwardly mobile visitors

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The Independent Online
THE TREES were turning in the autumn sunlight at Feethams yesterday, and the signs were there that Darlington's fortunes may be as well. Their goalless draw against the rising stars of Wycombe Wanderers left them still bottom of the Third Division, still five points adrift of Northampton Town above them, and still waiting for their first win of the season, but able to look back with some satisfaction on a gutsy display.

Darlington have trodden this path before. Five seasons ago they finished bottom of the Fourth Division and were relegated into the GM Vauxhall Conference. But in Brian Little they had an inspirational young manager who led them back into the League at the first attempt, and straight to the Fourth Division championship in 1990-91.

Yet promotion can be a mixed blessing, and so it proved when Darlington found themselves embarking on the new season without Little, whose talents had taken him to Leicester City. It was straight back down again, and after an indifferent 1992-93 the story of this season has been one of unremitting gloom. Not only no wins, but since the beginning of the month no manager either.

For the last four games the team have been jointly run by two coaches, Tim Parkin and Gerry Forrest, although the Darlington board expects to announce the name of a new manager this week.

Yesterday's match very much represented the old and new of lower division football. Wycombe were runaway champions of the Conference last season, and under the managership of Martin O'Neill have gone on to prosper in the League. Here they were, a symbol of the Home Counties in the 90s, coming to the sort of northern town where football is embedded in the Victorian brickwork. Chip butty versus blue chip, and on the day there was not much to choose between them.

One of the many pleasures of a game like this is the sight of some ageing pro, his glory days long over, still doing the only thing he knows how. The man to look for yesterday was the 39-year-old Jimmy Case, once of Liverpool and most other places, now helping out at Darlington.

Case bustled effectively, but in a match of good football, there were other Darlington men who caught the eye: Gary Himsworth in midfield, Joe Joyce at right-back, and the goalkeeper, Darren Collier.

Wycombe, the classier side though matched for effort, will think they should have won, or at least their striker Keith Scott will, for he squandered two wonderful chances around the hour mark, first when he shot over the bar with only Collier to beat and then when he was denied by an astonishing goal-line clearance by Joyce. But Darlington's point was well deserved.