Styche scores a hat-trick in Darlington's game against ex-Premier League players
AFTER scoring the crucial goal last January that resulted in Darlington winning the #NonLeagueChallenge competition that gave the club a friendly game against former Premier League players, it was fitting that Reece Styche was the star of the show yesterday.
He scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win – six months since celebrating a goal against Chorley by jumping into a mound of snow at the side of the pitch.
That game was only played as supporters of the fan-owned club had cleared the pitch of snow on the morning of the match.
Styche’s celebration then went on to poll the most votes in an online competition ran by Marathon Bet to reward the best celebration in non-league football.
As well as £20,000, also part of the prize was a game against a collection of former Premier League players, managed by 1966 World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst and organised by Marathon Bet, and many had North-East connections.
Former Sunderland players on show for the Marathon Bet Legends included Marco Gabbiadini, Micky Gray, David Preece, Alan Stubbs, Phil Babb, and ex-Middlesbrough were Danny Mills, Luke Young, George Boateng, Jeremie Aliadiere, Yakubu while former Newcastle United winger Ruel Fox turned out too.
As part of the competition prize Darlington keep all of the gate receipts, but the wet weather put a dampener on the day and no doubt affected the attendance, which was 1,358 and not bad considering, but Quakers could have expected more were it not for yesterday’s downpours.
There was disappoint that a handful of players that had been due to play did not feature, with Chris Waddle dropping out yesterday morning saying he was injured.
There was also no Julio Arca, Kieron Dyer or Muzzy Izzet, while Darlington were without Liam Hatch, Jamie Chandler for the second half.
Quakers heroes from yesteryear came on for the last half an hour by which point Darlington’s first team had raced into a 5-1 lead, their superior fitness telling against players who hung their boots up long ago and some have the waistlines to prove it.
Styche’s first goal came on seven minutes, a close-range tap-in after a Stephen Thompson cross, and he then drew a good save out of former West Brom goalkeeper Russell Hoult.
Thompson teed up Styche for a header to make it 2-0 before Thompson scored one of the match’s two spectacular goals, a vicious blast giving Hoult no chance for 3-0.
It was 4-0 when Styche completed his hat-trick before half-time with a penalty, conceded after a rash challenge on Alex Henshall by Mills, who demonstrated that little has changed in his physical approach to the game.
Henshall rivalled Thomson for the best goal of the day when he rifled one in off the underside of the bar just after the restart for 5-0, giving a glimpse of his abilities that fans will hope to see more of when the real action gets underway on Saturday against Curzon Ashton at Blackwell Meadows.
Former Bolton wing wizard Jay-Jay Okocha immediately pulled one back with a penalty, denying Gabbadini an opportunity to have his moment in front of the Darlington fans who saw him score 52 goals across two seasons in the late 1990s.
Perhaps karma was at play because late on, by which point Gabbiadini had left the pitch to warm applause, when Okocha took another penalty and this time saw Peter Jameson save it easily.
On the hour the entire Quakers team were replaced by former heroes, including Chris Moore, Leon Scott, Alan White, Steve Foster, Micky Cummins, Amar Purewal, Graeme Armstrong, Tommy Wright, and Robbie Painter.
As is the way with exhibition games there was little in the way of a competitive edge, though there was a minor flashpoint when Wright collided with former Sunderland left-back Micky Gray, who looked trim in comparison to his teammates.
Darlington supporters Michael Barrass and Michael Matthews also played a part having paid to play, while Quakers’ chief executive David Johnston was given a run-out too.
Craig Liddle made an appearance, receiving a warm welcome back from the fans, while there was a large cheer when Chris Senior – the 2011 FA Trophy hero – wrapped things up with a smart finish after a Purewal cross for 6-1.
Darlington: Maddison, Thompson, Vaulks, Galbraith, O’Hanlon, Trialist, Hughes, Wheatley, Henshall, Nicholson, Styche. Subs: Banks, Bancroft, Glover, Kaba, Morrison
Darlington Legends: Jameson, Moore, Foster, White, Scott, Purewal, Cummins, Wright, Senior, Armstrong, Painter. Subs: Liddle, Johnston, Barrass, Matthews
Marathon Bet Legends: Hoult, Young, Mills, Sinclair, Gray, Boateng, Fox, Okocha, Yakubu, Aliadiere, Jansen. Subs: Preece, Babb, Elliot, Morrison, Gabbiadini, Stubbs