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Match Report: Bedlington Terriers 0 Darlington 4
Final Score: Bedlington Terriers 0 Darlington 4
Another game, another win. It's becoming repetitive, like a scratched record, but nobody at Darlington is complaining about being stuck in the groove.
They appear to have reached a state of perpetual motion in steamrolling teams no matter what the combination of opposition, conditions and Martin Gray's team selection might be.
On Saturday he took the bold move to drop the usually involved Adam Nicholls as Quakers faced Bedlington Terriers on a perishing day in Northumberland.
A potentially tricky encounter was bypassed, however, courtesy of a 4-0 victory against a team who had a man sent off when more milestones were reached.
It was Darlington's 12th win in a row, their 16th away from home and it took their goal tally to an astonishing 118 in 37 games.
If they beat Sunderland RCA at Heritage Park this weekend for the first time in the club's history they'll reach 100 points.
Saturday's was their 32nd win of the season, the first time the club have won so many in a campaign, but there's only one number that matters to Gray: number one.
Until first position is secured, ahead of title rivals Spennymoor Town, then Gray will not be satisfied.
"I demand that they are not complacent," said the boss. "I won't accept anything but 100 per cent from them and I told them that in the changing room before the game.
"It's about standards and if you want to win anything you've got to keep at it and I've got to keep demanding it.
"We've got nine games to go, nine cup finals as I see it, and it's good that we've got everybody fighting for a game.
"People in the team are looking over their shoulder and any team that wants to achieve anything needs that competition."
Nicholls was at the sharp end of that competition, missing only his second league game since September, with Amar Purewal returning from a two-game absence.
Gray, who explained the decision to Nicholls before the game, said: "The last couple of games he hasn't quite clicked. He needs to get back to doing what he was doing before, on the training ground and in games, and he knows that.
"I'm always honest with players, I spoke to him about it and he understood the decision. So I'm looking for a reaction now."
Purewal's return saw Stephen Thompson revert to left midfield and it was his shot that led to the breakthrough via the penalty spot, midfielder Andrew Leeson having handled on 20 minutes.
Terry Galbraith blasted home in characteristic fashion from the spot. His penalty was Darlington's 16th of the campaign, 13 of them successful. Perhaps another record.
Galbraith had already twice stung the palms of Kevin Morton, who did well to track the flight of the ball as an icy wind swept through Welfare Park, strong enough to test the foundations of the floodlight pylons.
The keeper was kept occupied throughout, although his brother in the Terriers' midfield was to have a bigger influence.
With Bedlington posing little treat Darlington looked good for a second goal before half-time. Morton saved a powerful effort by Stephen Harrison, Thompson saw Chris Carr use his head to divert a shot over the bar, while Purewal wasted a David Dowson cross to the far post.
"I thought we controlled possession throughout," said Gray. "We started well and took the game to them on what was a tough day. It was freezing cold so getting the players switched on was just as important as anything else.
"We got at them at the start of the game and it was a shame we didn't get the second goal before half-time because that would probably have settled players down.
Bedlington's Craig Morton, right, uses his strength to ease Stephen Thompson off the ball
"But the sending off had a big impact on the game. Having said that, we were in control for the 90 minutes."
The sending off was that of Colin Morton, the veteran seeing red after receiving two bookings, the first for a challenge on Thompson, the second for barging into Galbraith.
Bedlington remained competitive while Quakers, for all of their possession, were not able to add a match-clinching second until the 75th minute, when Dowson netted.
It was a bit like waiting for a bus as he got another a minute later.
The first came after a low shot on the turn after receiving a pass from Thompson, who had just switched to the right, and the second after a carefully-weighted ball over the top from the in-form Chris Emms.
Dowson completed a neat first-time finish for his 17th goal of the season.
He would have had a hat-trick too were it not for a save by Morton, but he parried to the ever alert super-sub Steven Johnson, who tapped home his 11th goal of the season.
The result was Bedlington's heaviest defeat since Spennymoor put six past them in October.
Gray added: "On paper, Bedlington's starting XI is strong. They've lost some players lately but they've still got some quality. So it's credit to our players because they reduced Bedlington's chances through their work ethic.
"To score goals, keep a clean sheet on a horrible day against a good team is a fantastic result."
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