Whatever its name, this competition has had a nasty habit of defining the remainder of York City's season.

Last season's 1-0 defeat to a 'reserve' Hull City team in the then Auto Windscreen Shield probably sounded the death knell for Neil Thompson's short Bootham Crescent reign. He went on to win just one more game before being sacked.

The season before last, a 4-2 horror show at Halifax Town saw the Minstermen, then on the fringes of the Division Two play-offs, slump alarmingly and ulti-mately into the basement of the Football League.

The hope must now be that this season's fall-out can reverse recent trends and serve as a kick-up the backside, a wake-up call.

It has been suggested that if City can string a run of results together then the play-offs remain a possibility.

That may be so but any more performances like last night and the Conference is the only likely destination.

For even if silverware has always proved elusive via the newly-titled LDV Vans Trophy, this was a particularly harrowing exit.

It is difficult to recall one redeeming feature from the entire 90 minutes, emphasised by the fact City had just one shot on target.

As one City fan said: "It's not often you see two eclipses in one night."

Humiliating, inept, woeful, pitiful - the number of adjectives to describe City's performance could run and run.

As puzzling is the fact that for more almost an hour on Saturday, an organised and determined City were able to repel the attacks of Premiership high-fliers Leicester City on home turf.

At the same stage last night and against an on-the-slide Quakers' team missing a number of experienced regulars a shambolic City were 3-0 down.

It had started promisingly enough. In the first two minutes David McNiven and Kevin Hulme both tried their luck from long range and at least City looked a side determined not to follow the Lord Mayor's Show with a dustcart.

But it was sharply downhill thereafter as City resorted to their now familiar tactic of handing the opposition a one-goal, more often a two-goal, head start.

After ten minutes of uninterrupted Darlington possession that threatened very little, David McMahon burst into life.

Having spun away from Colin Alcide, he cruised into the City penalty area to be halted in his tracks by the outstretched leg of Darren Patterson.

It was a clear penalty and Stuart Elliott made no mistake from the spot.

A minute later and Darlington doubled their advantage.

Mark Kilty's header from inside his own half caught the City defence moving up and released Richard Hodgson, who cut in from the left before firing in a shot that clipped the legs of a City defender and deflected past Russ Howarth.

Darlington could hardly believe their luck, 2-0 up and they hadn't even had to break sweat to attain such an advantage.

With such a luxury bagged, the Quakers remained more assured in their passing while City's became increasingly desper-ate.

Patterson headed just wide from a Steve Agnew corner, Alex Mathie fired in a shot that at least forced a save from Frank Van Der Geest while Christian Fox blazed over from a decent position.

But it was more huff and puff than graft and craft. On a couple of occasions City did manage to deliver a decent ball into the box no one seemed willing to grab such opportunities.

City had little option but to give it a 'real go' in the second-half and manager Terry Dolan showed his intentions by hauling off the out of sorts David McNiven in favour of James Turley as Alcide was pushed up front to add some height to the City attack.

But if anything City' second half showing was worse than the first as for the next 45 minutes their passing disintegrated and Darlington enjoyed a stroll in the park.

Within five minutes McMahon had put the visitors 3-0 up.

Picking up a Phil Brumwell throw-in with his back to goal on the edge of the City box the striker, on-loan from Newcastle United, turned and sent a left-foot curler past the outstretched hand of Howarth.

It was a sublime strike but where was the pressure or the closing down?

As the temperatures dropped so too did the City heads.

Agnew offered a glimpse of what could have been when he curled a delightful ball behind the Darlington defence for Mathie to chase but just as the marks-men got ready to shoot Adam Reed intervened with a superb tackle.

But other than that City offered pretty much zilch as an attacking force and it was no great surprise when Darlington added a fourth.

From a corner, the ball fell to Jesper Hjorth unmarked at the far post. He shot into the ground but the ball bounced up kindly for Craig Liddle who was able to head the ball past a helpless Russ Howarth.

It could have been worse. McMahon had two good opportunities to add to his tally and claim a hat-trick but fired wide on both occasions.

Those City fans not now heading out of the exit door turned to gallows humour for comfort as the chant of "are you Scarborough in disguise?" emanated from the David Longhurst Stand.

It proved the final insult of a forgettable night.

Updated: 09:42 Wednesday, January 10, 2001