Staunton suffers rude awakening at Darlington

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The Independent Football

If events had unfolded as he hoped, Steve Staunton would have spent the afternoon putting the finishing touches to his plans for a famous victory by the Republic of Ireland over Italy before 80,000 of his compatriots at Croke Park, with a place in next year's World Cup finals firmly within reach.

Instead of reacquainting himself with the Azzurri, who he faced in World Cup combat in Rome at Italia 90 and again in New Jersey four years later, Staunton endured a chastening start to his career in club management as his new employers, Darlington, succumbed 2-0 to Dagenham & Redbridge, their 10th defeat in 12 winless League Two fixtures.

In contrast with Dublin's madding crowds, there were just 1,981 spectators at Dagenham to see the home side go second in League Two, with 210 defiantly cheering the Quakers.

But then Staunton is no stranger to embarrassment by inauspicious opponents at small, cramped venues. The results that put the skids under his four-year contract as manager of the Republic were a 5-2 collapse in Cyprus and a stoppage-time win in San Marino, then lying 195th in Fifa's world rankings. After only 21 months in the role, marked by his torrid relations with the media, he was relieved of his duties and eventually succeeded by Giovanni Trapattoni.

"That's why we're in the position we're in – stupid errors," Staunton said, reflecting afterwards on the goals Darlington conceded. "Hopefully we can turn it round as quickly as possible. They worked their socks off and gave me everything, but you can't keep giving teams a two-goal start. I'm under no illusions – there's a hell of a lot of work to do, on and off the pitch."

Coincidentally, the only League club other than Darlington still searching for their first win are Ipswich Town, these days guided by Staunton's old international team-mate, Roy Keane. Yet whereas Keane's side have made a habit of conceding vital last-gasp goals, it was all over for Darlo before the first half reached its midway point yesterday.

First, Danny Green punished poor distribution by the goalkeeper Russell Hoult, whose roll-out never reached Jeff Smith. Only 58 seconds later, before Staunton and his assistant – the former Aston Villa and Arsenal midfielder Kevin Richardson – could help their new charges regroup, Josh Scott exploited a retreating defence to drill in the second goal.

Hoult, a one-time England contender in his West Bromwich days but now on loan from Notts County, redeemed himself by tipping Paul Benson's 25-yard curler on to the bar and then denied Scott Griffiths when he broke through.

To compound Staunton's disappointment, his gamble on signing Noel Whelan, the former Leeds and Middlesbrough striker most recently seen playing for Harrogate Town, came to a premature end. More portly than in his prime, Whelan was carried off by two members of the backroom staff after suffering a first-half hamstring injury.

Since losing the assistant manager's job at Leeds when Gary McAllister was sacked last December, Staunton had kept his hand in by scouting for Wolves' manager Mick McCarthy, a former Ireland team-mate. He applied for the vacancies at Motherwell, Port Vale, Rotherham and Lincoln before the Darlington chairman, the Middlesbrough businessman Raj Singh, decided he was the man to replace Colin Todd at a club emerging from the spectre of administration.

The man known in the game as "Stan" plans to draw heavily on the contacts made in more than two decades in the English game, though he hit a snag before a ball was kicked in earnest when Robbie Threlfall, a reserve left-back at Liverpool, pulled out of a loan deal. Moses Barnett arrived from Everton to fill the gap, but for the 18-year-old debutant, and for Staunton, it was a harsh introduction to life at the bottom.