Final Score: Darlington 1 Penrith 0
DARLINGTON went into last night's game with lowly Penrith knowing that they needed to score twice to reach 100 goals for the season, but in the end they were thankful for a late penalty which gave them victory.
Terry Galbraith's spot-kick proved enough five minutes from time to take a hard-fought three points from a match in which Darlington were not at their best.
They had to keep their composure as they sought a way through a packed defence as, not for the first time this season, the opponents 'parked the bus'.
By full-time, however, Martin Gray's side were 21 points clear of second place and it was the Cumbrians who were most frustrated. Goalkeeper Jonny Jamieson ended up being sent off for foul and abusive language.
He saw red in the aftermath of Darlington's penalty award, and in anger damaged the roof of the players' tunnel. It is understood Penrith have said they will foot the bill.
It would have been Darlington, however, who would have been counting the cost of dropped points were it not for Galbraith's fourth penalty for the club.
Galbraith scores from the penalty spot
Gray lauded the performance, saying it was better in some respects than last season Friday's win at Spennymoor Town.
"Penrith had a 4-5-1 formation, they got everybody behind the ball and slowed the game down as much as they could and made life very difficult for us," said Gray.
"I think some people expect us to win every game by four or five goals, but that performance tonight was far better than last Friday because we kept composed and didn't get anxious.
"Their keeper made a couple of great saves, he kept them in the game. It was a great performance, another three points and another clean sheet."
Match-winner Galbraith got Darlington back into Friday's win at Spenymoor with a stunning long-range strike, and Quakers almost fell behind last night to a similarly well-hit shot by Benjamin Jackson.
The Penrith midfielder let fly from 25 yards with a powerful drive that had Mark Bell diving despairingly to his right, but it dipped wide.
The chance was soon followed by Chris Emms going even closer when his under-hit effort bounced along the floor and rebounded off the post as Darlington took a grip.
David Dowson volleyed wide from 20 yards and Amar Purewal was off-target from the edge of the penalty area as Darlington did most of the pressing without reward during a tepid first half.
There was a lack of tempo as Quakers struggled to break down a resilient opposition, who got men behind the ball and defended well.
Perhaps frustrated by the lack of a breakthrough, centre-back Joe Tait found himself in the opposition's penalty area and hooked the ball across goal after being played in by Stephen Harrison, but Penrith, as usual, cleared the danger.
The second period followed a similar pattern as the first: Darlington attacked while Penrith defended.
For all of Quakers' possession, however, visiting keeper Jamieson had seen little action, until midway through the second period when he stopped a Purewal effort from close range as the forward met a Stephen Thompson cross.
With a breakthrough looking unlikely, Gray took action on the hour, making two substitutions and changing formation to 3-4-3.
Emms and Leon Scott were replaced by Adam Nicholls and Steven Johnson, but the next shot fell to Penrith's William Paul. However, he probably now wishes he hadn't as a comical attempt saw him belt the ball out for a throw.
Jamieson made another stop at close range from Purewal when he saved with his feet, but Penrith's game-plan was soon ruined by a penalty.
Substitute Charlie Bowman was adjudged to have pushed Thompson and Jamieson exacerbated the punishment by offering the referee an unwelcome assessment of his decision.
Gray said: "That was brave and a touch of class from Thompson. Most teams would've lumped that free-kick into the box, but we gave the ball to Thompson who spun the full-back and won a penalty.
"Their manager didn't appeal, their lad pushed Thompson."
Midfielder Steven Rigg picked up Jamieson's shirt and went in goal, but he stood no chance of saving Galbraith's penalty, smashed high into the net.
The relief was as abundant as it was against Spennymoor when the former Dunston man, who has become so crucial to Quakers, levelled in a top of the table clash in which Darlington demonstrated their capabilities.
Last night they had to show qualities of a different sort as they ground out their seventh successive win.
More Darlington FC News
- Darlington lose their grip on the title
- Darlington striker Cartman is the division's player of the year
- Play-offs now likely after Darlington draw
- Darlington need another strong performance
- Darlington need to win their three games, admits Mitchell
- Darlington make game an all-ticket contest
- One game at a time remains Darlington's approach
- Title-chasing Darlington make it six wins in a row
- Cartman on being back among the goals and celebrating with his son Alfie
- Darlington need to hold their nerve in final fixtures, says Gray