Bradford Park Avenue slipped to a first defeat in three games with an unfortunate defeat at promotion chasing Darlington.

The only goal of the evening came with 10 minutes to play, Harvey Saunders firing home although Matt Hill seemed to be clearly fouled in the build-up.

The hosts struck the woodwork twice through Dave Syers and Mark Beck but Avenue had their chances in a fairly even game, Nicky Wroe failing to convert the best one as he attempted to pass when through on goal.

The visitors set their stall out early on playing some good football, Gavin Rothery having the first shot of the game as he went on the outside of full back David Ferguson but his left-footed effort was comfortably saved by home stopper Adam Bartlett.

Darlington then struck the post for the first time in the evening, Josh Gillies delivering a good cross which Syers met with a powerful header only to see his effort cannon off the outside of the woodwork.

Avenue then somehow failed to convert from a corner as Shane Killock’s volley was blocked on the line and as he ball pinged around the area, Wayne Brooksby’s header somehow slipped past the post.

Bradford were doing heir best to test Bartlett, as Emile Sinclair hit a volley across goal from the corner of the box before Rothery shot powerfully from 20 yards, both efforts fling wide of the goalkeeper’s right-hand upright.

The home side came close just before the break as Gillies hit a free kick which flicked off the top of the ball and dropped over the bar, the sides going in goalless at half time.

After the interval, Darlington struck the post again as Beck swung a leg at a deep cross, his well-struck effort humping he foot of Jon Worsnop’s post.

Avenue came close once more 10 minutes into the second period, Rothery cutting inside before hitting a low cross-shot across goal which Brooksby got a toe to, his touch slipping just past the post once more.

Just after the hour mark the hosts were questioning how they hadn’t scored as a corner from the right flashed right across the goal line, Jake Hibbs just about scrambling the ball to safety.

Substitute Nathan Cartman had a good chance five minutes after coming on, but as the ball dropped to him in the area he scuffed wide from a good position.

Avenue made their own first change of the game as Oli Johnson replaced Rothery, and he was straight into the action as some good footwork saw him make space for a shot, firing a powerful effort towards the top corner which Bartlett saved brilliantly.

And then with 15 minutes to play, every Bradford player and fan had their head in their hands as somehow they failed to open the scoring.

Wroe nicked the ball back off a defender to run through on goal, and as Bartlett came out, the perfect opportunity for a shot opened up but he thought a pass to Sinclair was on, but with a defender accompanying him coupled with a poor attempted pass, the chance went begging.

Just five minutes later, the home side took the lead as Saunders scored just two minutes after coming on.

However Avenue were fuming as the referee failed to award a foul on the halfway line as Hill was dragged to the ground by Stephen Thompson.

With no whistle and Hill out of position, he advanced and saw his shot blocked up into the air towards Beck. The forward headed goalwards and James Knowles’ goal line clearance fell straight into the path of Saunders who made no mistake from five yards.

Bradford had two long range efforts as Hibbs and Aidan Chippendale forced saves from outside the box before one last big chance.

The ball was pinging around on the edge of the Darlington box as Johnson and Sharp attempted to get a shot away, and as it broke to Wroe he looked set to score but for a brilliant tackle to somehow turn the ball over the bar.

There was still time for an unusual moment deep into added time. Worsnop had advanced for a late corner and as the home side broke, the linesman flagged for a foul by Jake Hibbs on the halfway line, but the referee waved away the decision. Wroe had chased the ball into the corner and picked it up to return the ball for the free kick and vent his frustrations at the decision, only conceding a free kick for handball.

However the full time whistle came soon after and Avenue were defeated in their game in hand, meaning they remain in 18th position in the National League North, six points clear of the relegation zone with a trip to fellow strugglers Alfeton Town next up on Saturday.

Darlington: Bartlett, Marrs (Saunders 78), Ferguson, Turnbull (c), Galbraith, G.Brown, Syers, Falkingham, Beck, Thompson, Gillies (Cartman 56)

Subs not used: Wilczynski, Hunter, Scott

Goal: Saunders (80)

Bradford Park Avenue: Worsnop, Hibbs, Hill, Wroe (c), Killock, Knowles, Brooksby, D.Boshell (Chippendale 82), Sinclair (Sharp 77), Nowakowski, Rothery (Johnson 64)

Subs not used: Toulson, Hall

Bookings: D.Boshell (41), Sinclair (56),

Referee: Paul Newhouse

Attendance: 1333