DARLINGTON'S promotion hopes were bolstered by a convincing 3-1 win over Cammell Laird last night which sees them move into second place on goal difference.
With ten games to go they are seven points behind leaders Curzon Ashton, who have a match in hand and know that in-form Quakers are waiting to pounce should they drop anymore points - they play each other at Heritage Park next Wednesday.
FLASHPOINT: From a corner Darlington strikers Amar Purewal (left) and David Dowson (centre) challenge Cammell keeper Mike Langley
All Darlington can do is maintain the pressure and keep on winning, and last night’s three-point haul was their 14th win in 16 matches.
It was fully deserved too, with Stephen Thompson, David Dowson and Terry Galbraith getting the goals in the team’s best display in weeks.
“Psychologically that’s a big boost for us, to go second in the table,” said manager Martin Gray.
“It was a really good performance against a team that have taken points off Warrington and Ramsbottom recently. We started positively and their keeper made some big saves to keep them in it.
“It should have been two or 3-0 at half-time because of that performance. The front three were a handful and Amar Purewal was great tonight.
“I was as pleased with the performance tonight as I am the result and as far as I see it we’ve got ten cup finals now.”
The first of those ‘cup finals’ is on Saturday at Northwich Victoria, a game Leon Scott will miss after suffering a hamstring strain just before the break last night and with his squad already small Gray hopes to bring reinforcements before the weekend.
Aside from a couple of early scares for Quakers – Chay Dysart hit the bar with a header - it had been a low-key start so when Thompson blasted home a beauty from outside the penalty area it came without warning.
In a central position, he dribbled towards goal in his brand new gleaming white boots and in trademark fashion unleashed one of his thunderbolts, which goalkeeper Mike Langley had no chance of stopping.
While the game had hardly threatened such a moment of quality, Laird could hardly say they had no warning as Thompson has frequently scored such goals.
He has not been at his best in recent weeks with last night’s opener being his first goal in five games, and he would soon have had another were it not for a save at close-range by Langley.
The keeper took the ball full force in his midriff after Thompson was played in by Amar Purewal, who flicked the ball on despite a physical challenge by Cammell Laird captain Dysart.
Thompson’s goal settled Quakers, they looked more fluid and confident going forward while the visitors’ 4-5-1 formation did little to stop Gray’s men.
Two more saves by Langley kept it down to 1-0 at the break, the first stopping another Thompson long-range blast before show fine reactions to tip over Dowson’s shot on the turn.
Ten minutes into the second half, however, Dowson got his goal following a lovely passing move which was the highlight of the night.
A string of short, sharp passes inside the opposition half ended in a one-two between Thompson and Dowson with the latter keeping his cool to score his 13th league goal of the season.
It was straight-forward from then on, with Quakers in control and their defence looking solid with Gary Brown and Joe Tait back in tandem.
They were reunited at centre-back for the first time since last season due to injury and suspension to Chris Hunter and Alan White respectively.
Brown executed a goal-saving tackle on Jamie Henders, although the Laird forward was clearly in an offside position when he received the ball.
Dowson was substituted midway through the half and, as usual, replaced by Nathan Fisher who did not have to wait long for his first chance, put through on goal after smart hold-up play by Purewal on halfway.
Langley saved the shot, but he was beaten for the final time on 79 minutes when Galbraith netted his second penalty in five days after Fisher had been tripped by Liam Hollett.
In injury time, though, a sloppy pass by Jonny Davis was seized on by Cammell Laird, resulting in substitute Paul Foy dribbling through the defence and slotting beyond Bell.