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A stroll for Quakers as they crack in six
Final Score: Darlington 6 Norton & Stockton Ancients 1
DARLINGTON strolled to their easiest three points of the season as they hit doomed Norton & Stockton Ancients for six.
Across the pitch Darlington were in a different league to bottom-of-the table Norton and the teams look very likely to be in different divisions next season too.
Norton appear set for relegation - the defeat was their 11th in 12 games - while Quakers cemented their position at the top with a ninth successive win.
They will hope to provide stiffer opposition than Norton, who conceded the bulk of the goals before the break during a one-sided 45 minutes.
A fortnight ago, Darlington were forced to wait until five minutes from time before scoring against a stubborn Penrith. Last night, it was a complete contrast.
"The difference compared to the Penrith game is that we took our chances," said manager Martin Gray, who rested Joe Tait and gave Darren Richardson a start.
"Norton played the same formation as Penrith, 4-5-1, but we took some early chances and that made life easier for ourselves.
"We made easy work of it and the first-half performance was really good. The finishing was clinical and you'd have settled for that if someone had told you it would be 5-0 before the game."
David Dowson got the first on 16 minutes with a shot on the turn after being played in by Chris Emms, and his 15th goal of the season would soon have been followed by his 16th were it not for a magnificent clearance by Stephen Oakley.
Adam Nicholls made it 2-0 with a first-time finish from a central position after Dowson's ball from the byline and then Amar Purewal got in on the act, tapping home the rebound after Dowson had hit the post following a run from halfway.
Darlington were rampant and lacklustre Norton had no response.
Leon Scott smashed a drive off the crossbar before Purewal scrambled home his second, and the team's fourth, after Gary Brown had been unable to force home at close-range when Richardson met an Emms free-kick.
Though it was Quakers' forwards who were responsible for the 4-0 scoreline, the best goal of the night came from right-back Stephen Harrison.
After a corner from the left, Harrison showed adroit technique to strike a sweetly-hit volley that James Howarth had no chance of stopping.
At 5-0 at half-time, Darlington looked likely to record double figures for the first time this season having dominated possession and continually scythed through Norton.
Gray, however, took an opportunity to rest players, making three substitutions at the start of the second half and Darlington's momentum suffered.
Purewal was denied his chance of scoring the club's first hat-trick of the season after being replaced - "he wasn't happy coming off," said Gray - when he was replaced by Connor Lowes.
Kerry Hedley came on for his debut. The winger has joined on loan from Hartlepool United and showed neat bits of skill on the left, but the first goal of the second period went to the visitors.
A mix-up in Darlington's defence, when Norton punted the ball forward, led to keeper Mark Bell being stranded off his line, allowing Callum Brown to head home.
But the goal did nothing to lift the tempo of a pedestrian second half which lacked both a competitive edge and any atmosphere from the terraces, perhaps unsurprisingly.
The final say went to super sub Steven Johnson.
He nabbed his ninth goal of the campaign, seven of them after coming off the bench, when he tapped home Scott's cross for Darlington's 50th goal at home in 16 games.
"I'm not paying much attention to the table," added Gray.
"We're 27 points ahead of the champions and you'd have been happy with that at the start of the season, but they've got a lot of games in hand."
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