DARLINGTON manager Alun Armstrong paid tribute to the workrate of his players after an excellent 2-0 home win over Southport.

Southport came to Blackwell Meadows unbeaten in their opening four matches without conceding a goal, but Quakers outplayed them for most of the game thanks to a fast and attractive tempo, faultless defending and all-round determination.

Considering the absence of four players through injury and unavailability, an enforced change during the game because of another injury, a brisk wind, and previously unbeaten opponents, this was a top-quality performance.

Quakers will now hope more of their missing fans will return.

Those present at Blackwell Meadows on Saturday gave the team a standing ovation having watched every Darlington player put in a shift as Quakers recorded their first win over Southport in eight attempts going back to September 2010.

“It was a great result, and the lads have to take full credit for that,” said Armstrong. “We started like a house on fire, and if we start well, then we are a good side. I’ve always got belief in these players that I’ve brought into the football club.

“Tyrone O’Neill was immense; Jarrett Rivers was all over the park – but the workrate was phenomenal from every single one of the players. They worked their socks off from beginning to end.

“When we played Kettering, we were right round the ball, harrying our opponents and we were like that again on Saturday. But at Curzon, we lost that intensity – it might have been fatigue because of three games in five days and the lads had been at work as well. We regrouped during the week, went into training and kept it lively.

“What I liked about the lads was that they dug in and grafted – they were determined not to concede a goal in the second half. I was so pleased that we can show that side of our character, that we can actually defend properly, we can clear our lines when we want to, and we can concentrate."

Quakers caught Southport by the quick tempo of their start. On four minutes, a quick throw into the box by Michael Liddle on the right caused indecision in the defence, Rivers and Adam Campbell attacked the ball and O’Neill picked it up and fired into the corner of the net past Southport's Dan Hanford for his second goal in as many games.

Bermudan winger Justin Donawa, who made his first start on the left wing, caused headaches for the Southport defence with his pace, which on two occasions took him away from his right back, but he spoiled his good work both times with scuffed shots that went wide.

Despite playing against the stiff breeze, Quakers were good at getting the ball forward, and on 29 minutes they went 2-0 up. Will Hatfield, who had an excellent game as a midfield general, played the ball forward to O’Neill, who switched the ball out to the right to Rivers and was pulled down by Reagan Ogle. Campbell, on penalty-taking duties in place of the unavailable Stephen Thompson, sent Hanford the wrong way.

Quakers could have been out of sight by half time as the Sandgrounders floundered. The rampaging O’Neill broke away and set up Rivers, who fired right-footed across the face of goal, while Rivers judged the wind to perfection to cross for Donawa, whose volley was blocked by Hanford.

Armstrong had to rethink on 43 minutes when Liddle went down with an ankle injury and was replaced by Heaton, and so he switched to three centre halves with Donawa playing as a right wing back.

Liddle left the ground on crutches, and Armstrong said: “We don’t seem to be getting much luck at all with injuries. Hopefully he’s not too bad, but I think he’ll miss our next game at Altrincham.”

Despite the inconvenience, Quakers were still on top. Rivers was inches away from the third after a mazy dribble in from the left, then Hanford saved a 30-yarder from Campbell at full stretch.

The keeper then made the save of the match, pushing away a rasping free-kick by Osagi Bascome.

After that, Quakers didn’t really take any big risks, and were happy to defend in depth and kill time. Southport, one of the tallest sides in the league, had just a couple of chances from Raul Correia and Jack Sampson that Darlington keeper Chris Elliott dealt with.

Armstrong added: “We wanted more aggression from the lads because Southport have bullied teams this season – I told the players that I wanted them to match Southport.

“We could have got a third when Will Hatfield got through and was pulled down, and their kid never got a booking – for me, I think he’s through on goal. I couldn’t believe it when Justin Donawa was booked later in the game on the halfway line.

“I was really pleased with the way that the lads applied themselves, and hopefully they can kick on from here.”

Goals: O’Neill (4, 1-0), Campbell pen (29, 2-0)

Booking: Donawa (foul)

Referee: John Matthews

Attendance: 1,331

Darlington (4-2-3-1): Elliott; Liddle (sub Heaton 43), Laing, Galbraith, Watson; Bascome, (Holness 80) Hatfield; Rivers, Donawa (Wheatley 87), O’Neill; Campbell. Subs (not used): Bell, Atkinson

Southport (4-4-2): Hanford, Mohammed (Benjamin 46), Winnard, Astles, Ogle; Morgan, Glynn (Green 46), Lacey (Doyle 46), Bauress; Correia, Sampson. Subs (not used): Albinson, Woods