Only way is up for Staunton's 'Darlo'

While Ireland were taking on the world champions, their former manager was embarking on keeping lowly Darlington in the league. Phil Shaw reports
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The Independent Football

Reaching the back of the tiny stand at Dagenham & Redbridge where a local-radio reporter from the North-east awaited his verdict on a 2-0 defeat in his first match as manager of Darlington, the Football League's bottom club, Steve Staunton perused a lap-top displaying the League Two results.

He muttered the names of Grimsby, a struggling outfit Staunton must target if Darlington are to prevent the worst start in their history turning into a second fall into non-League football, and Shrewsbury, next weekend's visitors. For the only Irishman with more than 100 caps for the Republic, who also won two League titles with Liverpool, this is the grave new world.

Later, the Irish national team, which he managed before being ousted 21 months into a four-year contract, met Italy before 71,000 fans in Dublin. In contrast, Staunton launched his career in club management by losing to a team sponsored by funeral directors in front of fewer than 2,000 at the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Stadium. If it seemed a back-to-front way of doing things, there was no sense of culture shock.

"I started at Dundalk in the boys' club," he said. "This is like Wembley compared with that. Before I came over to Liverpool, I played at all sorts of places that struggled in terms of facilities and pitches. But I've seen enough games in this division when I scouted for Wolves and with Leeds [as assistant to Gary McAllister] to know what it's all about."

Would he feel a twinge of patriotic fervour when the clash at Croke Park got under way? "Twinge? It's more than that," Staunton said. "My heart is with Ireland – always will be." But Darlington's straitened circumstances – they were in administration earlier this year – would not allow him to watch the drama unfold. "Whatever money we have is utilised in the transfer market."

Darlington's position also means every match is in the "must-win" category. However, once Danny Green and Josh Scott scored, it became a damage-limitation exercise. While that objective was achieved, a big victory would not have flattered Dagenham. "They were playing with us a little bit," Staunton admitted.

It was a little surprising, giving that Darlington's chairman, Raj Singh, had named him to succeed Colin Todd barely 72 hours earlier, to hear Staunton bemoaning "the same old story". As at Leeds in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy the night before he took over, he felt that the players did not "react" until they were 2-0 down. If ever a side needed to heed Danny Blanchflower's 50-year-old imperative of "equalising before the others have scored", it is "Darlo".

Staunton and his No 2, former Villa team-mate Kevin Richardson, now have a week to give their new charges "a sense of direction" in the search for that elusive first victory. The wisdom of appointing a big-name manager remains to be seen. John Still made a solitary League appearance, with Leyton Orient in 1967, and cut his managerial teeth at Leytonstone, Dartford and Maidstone, yet his Dagenham side are up to second place.

Goals: Green (17) 1-0; Scott (18) 2-0.

Dagenham & Redbridge (4-4-2): Roberts; Ogogo, Antwi, Arber, Griffiths; Green, Spiller (Tejan-Sie, 44), Thurgood, Gain; Benson, Scott (Thomas, 77). Substitutes not used: Lewington (gk), Doe, Nurse, Montgomery, Bingham.

Darlington (4-4-2): Hoult; Arnison, Miller, Foster, Barnett; Groves (Convery, 57), G Smith, Chandler, J Smith (Devitt, 72); Gall, Whelan (Main, 35). Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Plummer, Bennett, Barnes.

Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).