Two red cards and two penalties ensured Harrogate Town’s 2017 ended in defeat as struggling Darlington ran out 3-1 winners at Blackwell Meadows on Boxing Day.
Simon Weaver’s side will finish the year in second place in the National League North standings, but could have trimmed leaders Salford City’s advantage at the top to just three pointa had they managed to overcome the 20th-placed Quakers.
It took just eight minutes of a lively contest for the first spot-kick to be awarded as Lloyd Kerry’s late challenge on Darlo’s Stephen Thompson gave Reece Styche the chance to open the scoring from 12 yards.
Styche then made it 2-0 after 26 minutes, bundling home from close range after a goal-mouth scramble that saw the ball strike both post and crossbar.
The introduction of Jack Emmett from the substitutes’ bench prompted Town into action and they threatened a comeback when the midfielder teed up Simon Ainge to reduce the deficit with a 65th-minute finish at the back post.
Any hopes of a recovery were however dashed as centre-half Warren Burrell was dismissed for a sliding challenge seven minutes from time.
And things then went from bad to worse just three minutes later, the hosts being awarded their second spot-kick and Town their second red card as Terry Kennedy pulled back Harvey Saunders, allowing Thompson the chance to convert and wrap up the points.
Weaver’s men will look to exact immediate revenge for this loss when they welcome the Quakers to the CNG Stadium on New Year’s Day (Monday), 3pm kick-off.