HAVING reached his landmark 20th league goal for the season, Darlington’s Stephen Thompson aims to maintain his scoring form with another strike in this evening’s crunch clash with Curzon Ashton.

The league leaders arrive at Heritage Park bidding to protect the nine-point lead they hold over Quakers, for whom Thompson is the only player to have started every league game this season.

Few have made a greater contribution to Quakers’ cause than the 24-year-old, who joined soon after the start of last season from Durham City and went on to score 19 league goals during Darlington’s Northern League title-winning campaign.

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Saturday’s strike in a 1-1 draw at Northwich Victoria saw him go one better – 23 goals in all competitions – but he’s not finished yet.

"That’s good for me, 20 goals, because I’ve never been prolific,” said Thompson, who was the club’s player of the year last season. “This year, everything I hit seemed to go in, that’s the difference, and long may it continue.

"I’m enjoying scoring goals and I’ll keep going to see how many I can get for the season.

“Last year was probably the most I’d scored in the league, not including when I was a kid, and hopefully I’ll get another goal on Wednesday and well get a win.

"If we get a win you never know how it is going to affect them, it might upset them a bit and there’s still a lot of games to be played.”

Saturday’s draw saw Darlington lose ground on Curzon, who beat Martin Gray’s men 1-0 earlier in the season. A win would’ve meant Quakers’ could have tonight shortened Curzon’s lead to four points.

And a win looked likely when Thompson netted after six minutes, but a 78th equaliser thanks to sloppy defending at a Northwich corner pegged back Darlington.

Thompson said: "It was very frustrating. We got the early goal and normally when we do that we go on at score four or five.

"We did well in the first half against the wind and I thought in the second half, with the wind, we’d batter them. We had a couple of chances, but a bit of bad defending cost us. It’s what we did in both boxes that cost us.

"As long as it stayed 1-0 they had a fighting chance. It was slack defending us at the end. We pressed again, but nothing came off.

"All the lads were gutted afterwards because we know we’ve got to win every game. Curzon won again so they pulled further away, but we’ve got to win on Wednesday to put some pressure on them and wait for them to slip-up.

"Curzon are a good team, but we can beat anybody on our day. Nobody scares us. They are organised and they don’t concede many, but we’ve got nothing to fear. We’ve got to be solid and take our chances.”

At the weekend, Thompson was the target of criticism made by Curzon manager John Flanagan, who, among other things, accused the Darlington forward of being overweight and unwilling to help out defensively.

But Thompson laughed off Flanagan’s comments, saying: "I saw it on Twitter, but I’m not bothered. I’ve just to go out on Wednesday and prove what I’m all about.

"Is he trying to get into my head? He’ll not do that, I’m not bothered what he says, he can say whatever he likes.”