THE first of series of games against relegation-threatened clubs saw Darlington overcome Altrincham and emerge as unconvincing 3-1 winners.

They laboured to victory somewhat, only adding a third goal ten minutes from time from the penalty spot, by Terry Galbraith, after a tense second half in which the bottom-of-the-table visitors threatened to salvage a point.

When wins are needed to maintain play-off aspirations, however, manager Martin Gray was hardly going to complain at the manner of a victory.

Quakers stay seventh, but now only a point off fifth spot.

Saturday’s 3-2 loss against Harrogate Town, when Leon Scott was sent off early on, continued Quakers’ poor run of form, so three points were essential ahead of back-to-back away games at struggling Worcester and Stalybridge.

“All that was important tonight was getting back to winning ways,” said a relieved Gray.

“We would’ve won a point or three on Saturday if we’d had 11 men on the pitch, so we needed to get a win straight away and it was a difficult game.

“Altrincham are bottom of the league, but they’re a club that was in the Conference last season. People might expect you to win these games, but it’s not as easy as that, certainly not in the division we’re in.

“Nobody gives you an easy game and that was proven in the second half when they dug in and had a good 20-25 minutes and made it difficult for us.

“It was a very strong first half performance and if we had gone in 3-0 up it would’ve been a bit more comfortable in the second half.”

Gray’s team stagnated after the break, but they had enough chances before the break to build a healthy lead having opened the scoring in only the third minute.

Mark Beck prodded in his 13th goal of the season at the far post after a David Ferguson corner - won when John Cyrus cleared a Josh Falkingham cross - was flicked on by Gary Brown.

In a strong Quakers start, it was soon almost 2-0. Phil Turnbull’s forward ball to Beck was passed on to the overlapping Chris Hunter, who had been recalled, but his cross was headed over by Nathan Cartman.

Beck then headed wide after a trademark Brown long throw, Quakers not making the most of their superiority.

Ed Wilczynski had not been involved inside the first quarter of an hour, so had to be alert when Elliot Newby got a shot away from the edge of the penalty area, the keeper getting down low to his left to keep out the effort.

Beck had the ball in the net again, after Stephen Thompson had raced up the right, but it was ruled out for offside, Quakers causing problems for the strugglers.

Newby wasted a good chance just before the half hour mark, one he would regret within 60 seconds when man of the match Falkingham made it 2-0.

It was his first Darlington goal, the midfielder bursting forward from midfield and finishing powerfully after Cartman’s nicely-weighted pass following Beck’s flick-on.

Falkingham excelled back in his preferred midfield position. With Scott dropped to the bench, the dogged Falkingham was back to the standards he set when he joined in September.

The two-goal platform was deserved, Darlington having been well on top, yet saw their advantage halved due to typical sloppy defending.

The Robins exploited space on the right of Quakers’ rear, James Lawrie getting a shot in parried by Wilczynski, but Newby was on hand to convert for 2-1.

It’s a scenario often played out during a season in which Darlington have still kept only two clean sheets.

Newby’s goal meant Darlington became the first team Altrincham have scored against home and away in league matches this season.

Beck was inches away from making it 3-1 just before half-time, hitting the underside of the crossbar after a Ferguson corner.

A goal would’ve given Quakers’ an easier second 45 minutes, instead Altrincham had hope and gave Darlington a few problems, though rarely tested Wilczynski.

At the other end, reserve keeper Andrew Jones came on for former Gateshead No. 1 Tim Deasy, replaced due to injury, in one of the few moments of note during an uneventful second half.

Beck was booked for what appeared to be an accidental clash with Kyle Brownhill, though the Altrincham player later required crutches and he will have stitches on a cut foot.

For the third game in a row Turnbull, last season’s player of the year, was substituted midway through the half, the uneven Blackwell surface hardly ideal for his style of play.

Galbraith replaced him and it was the substitute who sealed the points by tucking home from the spot, a penalty awarded after Ferguson’s surging run was ended by Simon Richman.


Goals: Beck (3, 1-0), Falkingham (29, 2-0); Newby (34, 2-1), Galbraith (80, 3-1)

Bookings: Lynch (44, foul); Beck (70, foul), Falkingham (78, foul), Heathcote (80, dissent)

Referee: W Finnie 7

Attendance: 1,423

Entertainment: 2/5

Darlington (4-3-3): Wilczynski 7; Hunter 7, Brown 7, Burgess 7, Ferguson 7; Syers 6, FALKINGHAM 8, Turnbull 6 (Galbraith 71); Thompson 6 (Hardy 90), Cartman 7 (Gillies 76), Beck 7. Subs (not used): Bell (gk), Scott

Altrincham (4-3-3): Deasy 6 (Jones 53, 6); Lynch 6, Cyrus 7, Heathcote 6, Clee 6; Richman 7, Taylor 5, Brownhill 6 (McWilliams 72); NEWBY 7, Evans 6, Lawrie 6 (Palma 87). Subs (not used): Patterson, Reeves

Man of the Match

JOSH Falkingham – The heartbeat of the team last night