The visitors included no fewer than 6 new signings in their starting 11 with a couple more on the bench.
The home side started well and earned an early corner which was cleared but the visitors quickly took a grip on the game and pushed forward on numerous occasions with the Bears defence having to be at its best, Morris and Beaumont getting in important headers.
It was Darwen’s new striker Ryan Steele who hit the first goal on 22 minutes, charging in on goal and tucking the ball past the on-rushing Ellison.
The Bears tried to fight back and Cope went close after a goal mouth scramble then won a free-kick which Taylor-Mountford played in but the visitors defence cleared. Morris had a shot blocked and Taylor-Mountford was his shot deflected. Beaumont linked up well with Adegbenro but the final cross went begging.
Deep into first half stoppage time Steele doubled the lead, picking up the ball and firing between Ellison and the post.
Half Time: Congleton Town 0-2 AFC Darwen
The Bears needed to make a stronger push in the second half and Lorde crossed in a dangerous ball but the flag thwarted the efforts of the on-rushing forwards. An early sub saw Ryder replace Beaumont.
Disaster struck for the Bears on 56 minutes. A ball was played in and Williams, in an attempt to clear the ball only succeeded in finding his own net, 3-0 AFS Darwen. A second home sub saw Ashton come on for Adegbenro and minutes later Cope had a great chance but saw his shot come back off the inside of the post and fall to the keeper.
A Red card for a poor challenge saw the visitors reduced to ten men for the final 30 minutes and the Bears made their final sub with Main replacing Lorde. More Darwen pressure saw shots going over the home bar and a Main free-kick just outside the box went inches wide.
With 14 minutes to go the Bears got reward for their efforts. Ashton picked up the ball and beat two defenders before passing to Cope who tucked the ball home from close range, 1-3.
As the final few minutes approached, Josh Ryder grabbed another goal back for the Bears, heading home from a corner, 2-3.
It was all push now from the Bears and Taylor-Mountford saw the keeper punch his shot clear and Cope headed just over then fired into the side netting. Main had a cross blocked and Cope’s shot was caught by the keeper.
It was not to be for the Bears and they crashed out of the Macron Cup at the first hurdle.
Team: Ellison, Williams, Taylor-Mountford, McLellan, Morris, Beaumont (Ryder 50), Lorde (Main 62), Speed, Cope, Higham, Adegbenro (Ashton 55)
Unused subs: Connor, Griffith