THE lowest crowd of the season were in attendance and those that stayed at home to watch England beat Brazil did not miss much as Darlington made hard work of beating Hebburn.
On a bitterly cold night, David Dowson put Quakers early on and it looked likely to become a goal glut that would’ve warmed up the 789 crowd.
But the flurry of chances dried up as stubborn Hebburn, despite going down to ten men midway through the second half, made Martin Gray’s side work hard for their victory.
While admitting his team missed the opportunity to add to their goal tally, Gray was pleased with a performance, which sees Quakers move 12 points clear of second place, though Spennymoor Town have six games in hand.
“It was a similar performance to Saturday when we won 5-0 at Marske, the difference being that we took our chances early against Marske,” said the manager, whose team play Hebburn again on Saturday.
“Tonight, we needed that second goal. It didn’t come, but it wasn’t for a lack of chances, we created so many through our positive attacking play.
“Overall it’s the points that matter and it’s another three going towards what we want to achieve.”
Darlington had not played at Heritage Park for seven weeks, however, they did not have to wait long for their first goal, Dowson firing home after a neat pass by winger Adam Nicholls.
He saw a penalty saved on Saturday by Marske’s Ollie West, but Hebburn’s Daniel Regan was given no chance as the striker blasted his 11th of the season.
Regan was to feature regularly, thanks in part to shaky Hebburn defending, as the visitors had retreated into their own penalty area.
Two Regan saves in as many minutes kept his side in the game. He stopped Stephen Harrison’s chip to the far post after being played in by Nicholls, and then Nicholls was denied by keeper from close range.
Although Quakers looked composed and in control, they were wasteful in front of goal. Amar Purewal was a case in point, unable to find the target when shooting from 18 yards.
Their profligacy was not a major concern, however, while Darlington’s defence held firm.
Keeper Mark Bell was well protected during what his fifth clean sheet in six games. Hebburn’s Wayne Gredziak, who joined yesterday from Northallerton, and Aaron Croft both tried their luck from distance.
But the second goal that Darlington threatened just wouldn’t come. Thompson headed into Regan’s hands, Dowson fired over and Nicholls had a shot blocked by a resolute Hebburn rearguard.
By the hour mark Darlington made their second substitution when Craig Gott replaced Nicholls with Steven Johnson already on for Dowson as a precaution at half-time.
Johnson made a swift impact, forcing Regan to make a low save after a neat Thompson pass, and soon Thompson was at the centre of the action when Hebburn went down to ten men.
Daniel Kirkup sent off for a dreadful challenge on Quakers’ play-maker when through on goal.
The tackle was not his first poor challenge of the night as he’d previously tried something similar on Dowson.
Kirkup’s dismissal sparked a melee involving almost every player on the pitch and led to three cautions. Gray was relieved his team held their nerve.
“The discipline of our team was crucial,” he said. “Hebburn work hard and their manager gets a shift out of his players.
“They’re a physical team and fair play to them. We all set our teams up differently.
“I knew there would be some tackles flying in, so I didn’t want us to get involved and have a man sent off.”
The numerical advantage ensured Darlington were in command for the reminder of the game, but they failed to trouble Regan.
He had few shots to save despite Quakers’ dominance with Thompson and Purewal both off target, and that left Darlington vulnerable should Hebburn be handed one last opportunity.
They got one too when Harrison conceded a free kick, but Dean Walker lifted his effort into Sainsbury’s car park and in the fifth minute of injury time Johnson summed up Darlington’s performance in front of goal when he shot straight at the keeper.
Goal: Dowson (5, 1-0)
Bookings: Forster (19, foul), A Brown (20, foul); Thompson (67, ungentlemanly conduct), Tait (67, ungentlemanly conduct); Harrison (67, ungentlemanly conduct); Nicholson (85, foul); Harrison (88, foul)
Sending off: Kirkup (66, serious foul play) Referee: Matthew Dicicco 8
DARLINGTON (4-4-2): Bell 6; S Harrison 6, G Brown 7, Tait 7, Scott 6; Nicholls 6 (Gott 59, 6), Davis 7, Galbraith 7, THOMPSON 7; Dowson 7 (Johnson 46, 6), Purewal 5. Subs (not used): Porter (gk), Richardson, Emms
HEBBURN TOWN (4-1-2-2-1): REGAN 6; Forster 6, Kirkup 4, A Brown 6, L Harrison 6; Croft 6; Gardiner 5, Robson 5 (McDonald 46); Nicholson 6, Stephenson 6 (Walker 75); Gredziak 5 (Wardle 75). Subs (not used): Nicholson, Charlton
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