MARK BECK’S penalty was enough to give play-off chasing Darlington a win at Stalybridge Celtic and with it came only the team’s third clean sheet of the season.

Not since April last season had Quakers not conceded in an away game, but they managed it today against the second-bottom opposition who were competitive but, only briefly in the closing stages did they really threaten.

It was Grant Shenton, Celtic’s goalkeeper, who the hosts had to thank for making three top saves which stopped Darlington from winning by a greater margin.

Due to Halifax and Stockport also winning, however, Quakers stay seventh, one point off fifth place.

It was a promising start for Darlington, the first three minutes played almost entirely in Stalybridge's penalty area with the hosts unable to clear.

A Gary Brown throw and a Stephen Thompson corner came to nothing, however, and soon Celtic had a chance of their own, snuffed out when Chris Hunter blocked inside the penalty area from Danny Wilkins.

There followed a few anxious moments for Darlington, notably when James Roberts put ball across penalty area after a Stalybridge throw-in, fortunately for Quakers there was nobody in blue to meet the cross.

In a lively opening period, Dave Syers attempted to score his eighth goal of the season when he struck the ball cleanly from 25 yards, the effort taking a nick on the way through to earn Darlington’s second corner of the game.

David Ferguson’s set-piece came to nothing, but the left-back had a huge role to play in Quakers taking the lead on 27 minutes.

He was fouled by Aaron Chalmers when about to shoot inside the penalty area, the left-back having exchanged passes with Josh Falkingham when getting forward, referee Mr Rhodes having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

With Terry Galbraith again a substitute it was left to Mark Beck to tuck the ball home for his 14th goal of the season.

The goal put Darlington into a position of strength, and they finished the half on top but without adding to the scoreline.

Syers wasted an opportunity for 2-0, not getting enough power into his shot when played in by Beck who climbed above Fraser Horsfall to flick the ball on, while Beck was wide from 20 yards before Syers had another opportunity, this time his shot blocked by Danny Morton after a Stephen Thompson right-wing cross.

Falkingham drew a smart save out of Grant Shenton, the keeper having to get low down to his right to stop a volley from the midfielder.

At the beginning of the second half there was an opportunistic effort from Phil Turnbull. With Shenton out of his goal after a miscued clearance which fell straight to Turnbull, the Darlington midfielder attempted a long-range effort which never seriously tested the Celtic No. 1.8 Turnbull was one of two changes to the side which drew with Worcester last week, he was recalled and so too was Nathan Cartman. They replaced Liam Hardy, who this week rejoined Buxton, and the benched Josh Gillies. Also among the subs was Liam Marrs on his return from an ankle injury.

Danny Pilkington saw a header go wide nine minutes into the second period, the forward outjumping Chris Hunter when meeting a cross from the right.

A nice passage of play up the left, featuring a series of short passes, led to Thompson swinging the ball over to the back post where Syers headed it back across for Cartman. The striker looked certain to score, but Shenton blocked from the forward at close range.

A third terrific save by Shenton came when he kept a Beck shot out after Cartman had headed the ball back across goal.

Shenton saved again, this one straight at him, when Ferguson powered an effort at goal after Thompson had picked him out.

There were penalty appeals at both ends inside 60 seconds midway through what was a largely even second half, first when Roberts collided Darlington’s Brown.

The referee played on, as he did moments later when Matty Hughes appeared to handle a Cartman shot. The Quakers attack came after Gillies, with his first touch after coming off the bench, provided a low delivery from the right which Cartman turned towards goal.

Gillies was not far off target with a rasping free-kick, given when Falkingham was fouled. It left Shenton standing, but the ball zipped over the bar.

Darlington had been comfortable for most of the game, Stalybridge causing only the occasional moment of alarm, but there was almost a repeat of last week, when Worcester equalised in the dying minutes.

Stalybridge rallied and attacked down their left, getting men forward. Keano Deacon cut inside and fired in a shot that Ed Wilczynski did well to save, beating the ball away two-handed. Mathias Bakare was first to the loose ball, but Brown blocked his goal-bound effort.

During six nervy minutes of injury time, substitute Terry Galbraith flashed the ball across the face of goal, Darlington having done enough to earn the three points.

The only down point on the day was Brown being booked, earning him a two-match suspension having been cautioned ten times this season. It will begin when Quakers face Brackley at Blackwell Meadows next weekend.

Goal: Beck pen (27, 0-1) Bookings: Dunbar (60, foul); Brown (74, foul)

Referee: G Rhodes

Attendance: 712

Stalybridge Celtic (4-3-3): Shenton; Morton, Hughes, Horsfall, Wisdom; Dunbar (Ahmadi 62), Regan (Bakare 73), Chalmers; Roberts, Wilkins, Pilkington (Deacon 58). Subs (not used): Bourne, McKnight

Darlington (4-3-3): Wilczynski; Hunter, Brown, Burgess, Ferguson; Syers (Galbraith 78), Turnbull, Falkingham; Thompson (Gillies 70), Cartman (Saunders 78), Beck. Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), Marrs