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Magnificent seven for goal-hungry Darlington
Off-the-field events at Bedford Terrace on Saturday briefly threatened to take the limelight, but it's Darlington's displays on the pitch that are grabbing the attention.
Eight successive wins during which 31 goals have been scored tells a tale of a side in top form with little sign of anyone stopping them.
Top of the table with 12 wins from 13 games, they already have double the points achieved by the teams in joint-fourth position.
Second-bottom Billingham Town provided stubborn resistance for the first 45 minutes. Seven days previously they had put eight past ten-man Newton Aycliffe and have also beaten Guisborough - the only team, so far, to have defeated Darlington.
Town striker Jamie Owens spurned two first half opportunities, one inside the first 30 seconds, but a goal from a free-kick by Quakers' Chris Emms just before the break opened the floodgates and in a one-sided second half, Darlington were unstoppable.
"Every time they got the ball they looked like they were going to score," admitted Carl Jarrett, the beleaguered Billingham boss.
Quakers manager Martin Gray said: "It was a great attacking performance and we defended ever so well. There are no easy games. You're going to have to come to these places and work hard, but our quality was excellent.
"One aspect of the attacking play that has pleased us is that nobody is being selfish. Nobody is trying to score from 40 yards. If they see a team-mate in a better position they pass it and then it's a goal."
Not since a 7-3 win over Colchester in November 1993 had Darlington scored a magnificent seven. That year, Alan Murray's team finished 21st, but the class of 2012 are setting their sights much higher and striker Stephen Thompson is central to promotion hopes.
He was again a menace in the final third, but had to wait until the 66th minute for a goal, netting from the penalty spot after Richard Gaston had felled Amar Purewal.
That made it 3-0, Leon Scott having added the second goal six minutes into the second half after being teed up by Thompson. "He was an absolute handful again," said Gray of the former Durham ace.
But having conceded two self-inflicted goals against Newcastle Benfield last week, Darlington were at it again on Saturday.
This time, Stephen Harrison's header into Glen Butterworth's path in the penalty area allowed the hosts to pull one back.
A glimmer of hope for Town? Not quite. Within 60 seconds Darlington had scored again as it turned into a rout with four goals inside 12 minutes making it 7-1.
Substitute Shaun Reay took his tally for the season to 11 with a quick-fire double. The first tapped in at the far post following an unselfish pass from Scott, the second following a goalmouth melee after Emms had worked his magic in the 18-yard box.
Billingham showed signs of a fight. Nicky Martin and Owens both hit woodwork, but immediately Darlington broke with Adam Nicholls netting twice more.
He rounded the keeper on 78 minutes and then added his second of the game, and fourth goal of the week, after slaloming through the Billingham defence to finish the scoring.
Former Darlington forward Ian Clark, Jarrett's number two, was on the sidelines ten yards away from former Quakers team-mate Gray. That was about as close as anyone from Billingham got to Darlington during the second half.
Ironically, another of Clark's former clubs, Hartlepool United, contributed towards Darlington's biggest win of the season as Pools pay for the upkeep of the pitch at Bedford Terrace, where their reserves play.
Gray said: "I thought the pitch was fantastic. It meant we could get the ball down, pass and move it."
The manner of the seven-goal show took the focus away from kick-off being delayed by ten minutes when a dust-up occurred close to the Bedford Terrace entrance.
"It was probably handbags," said Gray, and it caused both sets of player to briefly return to the changing room just as they had been set to kick-off.
"It was difficult to start the game after that little disturbance. You're out there ready to kick-off, but then you come back into the changing room for five minutes and it upsets the tempo," said Gray.
"But we got into our stride after 25 minutes got stronger as the game went on."
Jarrett's post-match inquest in the changing room also lasted 25 minutes.
"What we do against Darlington is not going to change our season at all. It's how we do against teams around us in the table that matters more," he said.
"But the second half performance was still disappointing. We let ourselves down and the fans, they don't like to see that.
"Our players' heads went down and I'm not happy about it because normally we're a team that fights to the death."
Darlington's thoughts now turn to Wednesday's visit of South Shields, another team in the lower reaches of the table.
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