Final Score: Darlington 4 Shildon 0
Three goals from Chris Emms made it a perfect ten for Darlington.
The winger bagged the club’s first hat-trick of the season to ensure Quakers recorded their tenth successive win with a 4-0 victory over Shildon.
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The goals took Emms’ tally for the season to ten while Darlington have now scored 113 with Leon Scott adding the fourth late on to put the seal on their 30th win out of 35 league games.
Darlington had to wait for the opening goal, though, as the FA Vase semi-finalists proved to be tough opposition and they restricted Quakers’ chances for much of the first half.
“That’s our first hat-trick after scoring 113 goals and it was great for someone to achieve that,” said Gray.
“Chris has been in really good form over the past month. He’s got back into the team and scored some important goals. He showed his quality throughout the game tonight.
“I thought we had three good chances in the first 15 minutes and we played really well. It was a really good performance overall, it has to be to beat a team that are in the Vase semi-finals.
“They had one or two chances and you can see why they score goals, but that’s a good win because Shildon are a good side.”
Emms almost got off the mark early on when he saw a volley deflected over after skipping Craig Hughes’ sliding challenge and from the resulting corner Shildon’s Michael Tait cleared Joe Tait’s header off the line.
Tait, son of former Darlington midfielder Mick, was one of three in the Shildon starting line-up that came through the ranks at Quakers and another of them, Hughes, nearly put through his own goal when his header almost wrong-footed keeper Keith Finch.
Shildon striker Sam Garvie, scorer of a hat-trick in the FA Vase quarter-finals on Saturday, looked dangerous while the Railwaymen maintained their shape, stifling Darlington who gave possession away too easily.
Stephen Thompson, back in the side after suspension, fired in a shot at a tight angle that Finch palmed away while Harrison almost added another to his collection of wonder goals.
He scored a cracker in last Wednesday’s win against Norton, and a curling effort from the right-back, after cutting inside, bent just around the wrong side of the post.
Half-chances, though, were all Quakers could muster. Until a surprise penalty award gave them the lead just before the break, given after Steven Johnson was fouled by Finch.
Gray said: “Finch made his mind up, Stevie’s momentum was going forward and if you’re going to go in as the keeper you’ve got to make contact with the ball, but I couldn’t really see from where I was.
“I just know that it was on the linesman’s side, he had the best view and he gave it.”
Finch vehemently protested the decision and then did well to push away Terry Galbraith’s penalty, but Emms was on hand to tuck home the rebound.
It had taken the entire first half for Darlington to score their first, but just three minutes into the second half Emms made it 2-0 when he scrambled home.
After Johnson’s shot had been saved, Chris Hunter blasted a clearance off his own keeper and Emms knocked the loose ball over the line to put Quakers in command.
It was a lead they never looked like relinquishing; Darlington’s defence looking as strong as ever as they recorded an eighth clean sheet in 12 games.
They had a let-off, however, when Adam Johnston burst through, but with only Bell to beat the Shildon midfielder lifted his effort over the bar.
He will have regretted the miss minutes later as Hunter’s push on David Dowson was punished with another penalty and this time Emms kept his cool to complete his treble.
The tempo dropped as both teams played out the closing stages at a moderate pace, though another Darlington goal looked likely.
Shildon looked a beaten team and they withdrew Garvie, replacing him veteran Phil Brumwell his first appearance of the season – 18 years after signing for Darlington.
He is fondly-remembered as being a whole-hearted player, but he could do little to stop Quakers making it 4-0.
After holding off a handful of challenges while dribbling from halfway, Scott gave ball to Dowson whose shot was parried by Finch into Scott’s path.