THIS season is turning in to a real rollercoaster ride. After a strong start and then a pretty barren middle period we’re just starting to find our feet once again. Two clean sheets in a row, albeit against opposition that rarely looked like scoring, is a substantial improvement on where we’ve been over the winter months. Hopefully, there’ll be more to come in our next eight matches.
Saturday’s win over Brackley was arguably our best performance since the end of October. Against a team with a fantastic away record, we played with vigilance and balance. That was crucial against a side that can and do punish home sides that over commit. We kept it reasonably tight at the back, we made sure that our three guys in the midfield won the battle against their three and everyone in the team put a shift in knowing that if just one player didn’t, the balance of play could have shifted to the away team. With such a competent and tactically aware performance, coupled with results that went our way, making the playoffs feels a lot more doable now than it did before the game.
While everyone played their part, there are a couple of notable mentions from the game. First of all, Terry Galbraith deserves a doff of the cap. Coming in for the suspended Gary Brown, Galbraith put in arguably the most impressive centre half performance since Gary Brown manhandled Halifax’s mountainous centre forward Tom Denton. Without wishing to start picking on individuals, the centre of defence has been a bit of an issue in recent months, but Galbraith has given Martin Gray something to think about when all his players are available. He did everything simple and made use of his physical presence to deal with anything Brackley had. It was a commanding performance that would be helpful if repeated over the coming weeks.
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Meanwhile, Josh Falkingham once again bossed the middle of the park. Having had a spell on the sidelines after being kept out of the side by Leon Scott, Falkingham is now looking like the real deal. With the energy of Jamie Chandler and the tenacity of Ricky Ravenhill, Falkingham has blossomed out of nowhere to become a key player. I wonder if it is coincidental that our upturn in form has dovetailed with his renaissance?
The only disappointing element of Saturday’s win was the lower than expected crowd. In hindsight, it probably is understandable. Since we moved to Blackwell Meadows, our home form has been erratic. With our return to Darlington heralded as an opportunity to attract lapsed and new fans, the offering on the pitch and, to a certain extent, the offering off the pitch hasn’t been the best. Hopefully, with results and performances picking up, those who came along and haven’t returned will perhaps give us another chance to show what can be achieved.
What is achievable is six points in the next two games, starting with the visit of Bradford Park Avenue on Wednesday. Having struggled early season, Bradford’s form has picked up in recent months under new management. With the relegation zone still just below them, I am sure they’ll make this game as hard as possible for us. However, play like we did against Brackley, with the same vigilance and balance along with some patience, we will overcome them and secure another three points for our playoff push.