AFC DARWEN will head into the North West Counties League play-off semi-final tomorrow night unbeaten in 11 games after ending their campaign with a 3-2 victory over Eccleshall thanks to a Ryan Steele hat-trick.

The result meant that the Salmoners ended the season in third place and will host Chadderton tomorrow night for a place in the final.


It was Chadderton who were the last team to beat Nick Lloyd’s side when they won 1-0 at the end of March.

After the exertion and exhilaration of winning the league cup less than 48 hours previously, Darwen fell behind on two minutes when James Gartside picked up a through ball, outpaced a defender and slotted past Stefan Holden.

Darwen had a golden chance to equalise late in the first half when Steele was brought down but the Salmoners striker saw Spencer Martin save his spot kick and ensure the visitors went into the break a goal to the good.

Steele did level the match on 55 minutes when he raced onto a misplaced back pass and hooked home.

The home side were not level for long as Angelo Errico latched onto a loose ball slotted into the net.

Darwen drew level again on 67 minutes when Steele raced onto a long ball and finished with aplomb.

As the game moved into injury time, it looked like Darwen had blown their chance to secure a third place finish.

But Steele found space in the box to give Darwen the points.