Ilkeston were overdue a display that left some cause for optimism and it finally arrived against Darlington on Monday night.
Their winless run goes on - it’s now seven games in all competitions - but against one of the favourites for promotion they gave as good as they got and could well have won the match.
The Robins also played against ten men for much of the second-half but that didn’t make things a great deal easier for them as Darlington got men behind the ball and frustrated the hosts.
The familiar story of good chances missed was prominent again too, but it was a much more mature display on the whole and will have given head coach Gavin Strachan plenty to be cheerful about.
The first effort of note came nine minutes in when Charles Weston laid the ball off to Danny Gordon whose shot was pushed wide by Darlington keeper Peter Jameson.
But it wouldn’t be long before the Robins were in front. Marcus Harness tricked his way into the penalty area before feeding JJ Blake who was brought to ground by Leon Scott. Blake picked himself up and slid the spot-kick low into the corner on 11 minutes.
Darlington weren’t offering too much early on, Adam Mitchell’s low shot dragged wide from distance on 20 minutes their first effort of note.
Tom Portas tested Ross Durrant on the half-hour, a ball threaded through to him in the penalty area but Durrant spreading himself well to block the midfielder’s shot.
Ilkeston hadn’t created much since their goal but were inches away from a second on 36 when sub Jonathan Edwards, on for the injured Weston, flicked Gordon’s corner against the crossbar.
Lee Ndlovu appeared to then be fouled as he entered the penalty area just before the break but the ref was unmoved, Matt Baker seeing a goal disallowed moments later for an apparent foul on Jameson although it looked highly questionable.
Blake put a free-kick too high and Edwards flicked wide in stoppage time, but Ilkeston were good value for their half-time lead having soaked up lots of pressure for parts of the opening 45 minutes.
It took just 90 seconds of the second-half for Darlington to level. Mitchell swung in a free-kick from the left and from a partial flick on, Terry Galbraith slid in to score from six yards out.
No sooner were the visitors level, they were reduced to ten men. Mike Williams burst forward for the Robins only to be abruptly halted by Chris Hunter. Ref Mr Howes took a dim view and sent Hunter off.
The game continued to be a bit stop-start and scrappy which meant the flow of play was interrupted regularly. The next chance of note came when Edwards beat his man before firing the ball far too hard at Ndlovu in the middle who could do little more than guide the ball over the bar.
Ndlovu then headed a Doyle cross wide on 71 minutes, Alan White doing similar at the other end from a Galbraith free-kick and Williams then seeing a shot bounce into Jameson’s hands with nine to go.
Harness cut inside and fired too high with the last kick of the game, but an honourable point had been earned by the Robins and their display a far more encouraging to build on.
Ilkeston: 1 Ross Durrant, 2 Joe Doyle, 3 Olly Luto, 4 Danny Gordon, 5 Joe Burgess (c), 6 Matt Baker, 7 Marcus Harness, 8 JJ Blake, 9 Lee Ndlovu, 10 Charles Weston (Jonathan Edwards 18), 11 Mike Williams
Subs not used: Liam Marshall, Aiden Print, Charlie Coulson, Evandro Rachoni
Darlington: 1 Peter Jameson, 2 Adam Mitchell, 3 Terry Galbraith, 4 Tom Portas, 5 Kevin Burgess, 6 Chris Hunter, 7 Stephen Thompson (Anthony Bell 62), 8 Phil Turnbull, 9 Alan White, 10 Nathan Cartman (Robert Youhill 74), 11 Leon Scott
Subs not used: Ian Watson, Graeme Armstrong, Jim Provett
Ref: M Howes
Star Robin: Joe Doyle