West were left to count the cost of some disastrous defending as they were beaten 5-4 at home to AFC Darwen at Brookburn Road. West were without Joe Shaw, Harry Hagon, Mark Rogers and Aaron Ashley from the previous week’s victory over Stockport Town with Sam Parr, Matty Kay and goalkeeper Conrad Betton replacing them.
Worse was to come for West when Scott Mason was forced off with a groin issue inside the first 20 minutes. West were already one down by that point as a deep cross from the left wing found Ryan McKenna unmarked inside the six yard box and he headed back across the helpless Betton in the West goal after just seven minutes.
Debutant Pauli Loukola replaced the injured Scott Mason and immediately injected life into the West side. West’s first chance came as Tom Bailey burst down the right of the penalty area and his low pull back was superbly cleared with Saul Henderson waiting to pounce. On 23 minutes West’s best move of the game came as Ben Steer drove down the right before his cross was knocked down by Henderson into the path of Bailey whose shot was blocked with shouts of handball from the home support. Two minutes later Henderson did well to lift the ball over his marker before forcing an excellent save from the Darwen goalkeeper Scott with a hard volley.
West were rewarded for their pressure on the stroke of half time when Steer again burst down the right finding Bailey unmarked at the far post to bury home from close range. However, West would head into the break behind as they switched off at the back and Chappy Massamba pounce to drive an unstoppable effort into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Worse was to come for West as debutant Loukola was also forced from the field through injury; to be replaced by Nic Evangelinos. Despite this West were level on 56 minutes when Steer’s long throw was flicked on and Bailey headed home at the far post. Three minutes later West were ahead when a terrific counter from West saw Bailey feed Kay from close range and he turned his effort home to give West the lead.
The lead lasted barely two minutes as a low cross found the unmarked Massmba at the far post and he slotted home from inside the six yard box. West went in search of a fourth as Bailey volleyed over at the far post from a West free kick before Evangelinos saw his header from a Steer corner deflected wide.
However Darwen remained a threat on the attack and saw three separate efforts blocked on the line with the goal at their mercy. It was a warning to West and one they paid dearly for as Massamba completed an impressive hat-trick on 73 minutes when he drilled a hard low effort across Betton into the corner.
The pick of the Darwen goals came six minutes later as Massamba did brilliantly to turn Kevin McGrath before driving in on goal and burying it to earn his fourth goal since signing for Darwen a week earlier. Moments later the Frenchman made way to a rousing reception from the West supporters in recognition of his performance.
It was a brave decision from the Darwen management as West pulled within one when Nic Evangelinos headed home his 9th goal of the season with a powerful effort.
Three minutes stoppage time brought more drama as Declan Rydings produced a wonder-save from Darwen goalkeeper Thomas Scott who, at full stretch, saved his side two points to tip a powerful volley over the bar. From the resulting corner, West struck the foot of the post with the final kick of the game as Darwen hung on to earn a breathlessly earned three points.