DEARNE and District’s 19-game unbeaten start to the Central Midlands League season ended in defeat at title rivals Doncaster City who gave debuts to three international footballers.

City signed Charlie Mulgrew – the 44-cap Scotland centre-back who won five SPL titles with Celtic – striker Ross McCormack, another former Scotland international who scored 120 Championship goals and was signed twice for more than £10million, and Wes Hoolahan who played more than 100 times in the Premier League and has 43 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

The signings of the veterans – Mulgrew and McCormack are 37 and Hoolahan 41– all were announced the day before or of the game, which City needed to win to have a chance of catching Dearne who had won 18 and drawn one of their 19 matches.

Dearne, who are based in Goldthorpe, took the lead through Baz Lowe but the hosts won 3-1 in Armthorpe.

The 11th-tier game was watched by more than 800 spectators, with more than 400 Dearne fans.

Dearne manager Jason Blunt said: “We got wind the day before that they were trying to sign these players.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing to be doing but it’s not against the rules so we can’t have any real issues with it.

“I don’t see those players staying with them all season.

“It leaves a sour taste but we can’t control what they do or who they sign.

“They obviously felt they needed those players to beat us and they did beat us.

“We try to take the positives out of it.

“It was a good occasion, crowd and atmosphere and great for our young players to test themselves against players of that calibre.

“It raised the profiles of both clubs.

“Nothing surprises me in non-league football anymore.”

On the game in general, Blunt said: “We played well.

“We could have been two or three nil up.

“When we scored first then the game got stretched and they came back at us.

“A draw would have been fair.

“But we just have to bounce back now.”

Dearne are now seven points clear of Doncaster City who have two games in hand.

The Goldthorpe-based club are hoping to finish top and reach the NCEL this season.

Blunt said: “We’re still in control.

“We will take some knocking off top spot.

“We knew, with Doncaster City in the League, we would need to win nearly every game.

“We will take it game by game.

“I don’t think it will be as straight forward as winning all ten games.

“There will be twists and turns. But we’re all confident we can do it.”

Meanwhile, Elite AFC lost 4-3 at SJR of Worksop.

They were 3-1 up at half-time thanks to a Sammy brace and a Brodey Burden goal.

But the hosts came back to win.

Elite slipped down to fifth.

The match was moved at late notice to Manton.

Manager Shane Pallett said: “The entire day was a mess.

“Firstly our performance wasn’t great and, like last week, it was our fault we threw away a big half-time lead.

“We know we are not ourselves currently and have no one to blame but ourselves.

“We will try to find the solution because we believe in our group.”