ANY Middlesbrough fans who popped along to Blackwell Meadows on Non-League Day will have perhaps watched a future Boro ace star in Darlington’s fourth successive win.

Though yet to kick a ball for Middlesbrough, Tyrone O’Neill has arguably been the club’s best player this season.

Such a description says something for both the Teessiders’ struggles as well as the progress of a promising young striker from Grangetown who goes from strength to strength, scoring his fifth goal of the season in the weekend’s hard-earned 2-1 win over Boston United.

He joined Darlington on loan in pre-season, highly-rated by manager Alun Armstrong who first coached O’Neill at Rockliffe Park when he was 13-years-old.

It was his birthday on Saturday, marking his 20th by scoring the best goal of his time with Quakers so far.

Tall and languid in style but, faced with a wall of defenders inside the penalty area, he dragged them this way and that, his quick feet able to bamboozle Boston’s defenders too slow to stop the youngster dribbling through before coolly passing the ball into the net.

“I’ve known Tyrone for a lot of years and I know what he’s capable of so that didn’t surprise me,” purred Armstrong, whose team are now 12th.

“We knew what they had at centre-back, we knew they were bulky and couldn’t really move their feet. I said to Tyrone get at them every opportunity you can because we know how good his feet are, and his composure to slot it in was fantastic as well.

“People might’ve questioned it when I brought a young lad in and asked if he could cope, but he’s as tough as they come. He might be thin and he gets kicked, but he’s always had good feet. I’ve know him since he was 13 and he’s always been like that.

“He surprises people with what he can do, and I think he shocked their centre-halves today because they started dropping off him.”

O’Neill has scored in each of the last thee games, though Quakers' worry is that Boro will recall him in January to give him a tougher assignment on loan at a club in a higher division.

He had a brief loan spell at Hartlepool United last season, and Armstrong added: “He’s got to be playing. There’d be no good in going to a league club and not playing, or sitting on the bench and getting ten minutes, he’d get nothing from it.

“He went to Pools and only played a few games, they didn’t see the best of him. We’ve given him a run of games and he’s getting better and better.

“Only he can stop himself from making a career in the game. The other way is if he doesn’t get the game time required at the age he is now, and we know for a fact that he will play for us regularly.

“If Boro call him back in January and he goes to a league club, would he get the time to develop? We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen, make sure he’s constantly playing here and that he will progress.

“He is getting better every week.”

O’Neill’s opener on seven minutes was of real quality not only due to his contribution, but because of the build-up with fine passing involving Joe Wheatley, Adam Campbell and Omar Holness.

Such neat play is typical of how Armstrong has honed his team, though the second goal two minutes later owed more to individual flair as Darlington continued their strong start.

After Jarrett Rivers’ right-wing cross was palmed away from under the crossbar by goalkeeper Peter Crook, Campbell was first to the loose ball and he carefully guided it into the top corner for his seventh goal of the season.

Darlington had started emphatically with the early two-goal blast, but took their foot off the gas and allowed the Pilgrims to pull one back.

Boston’s Dominic Knowles, a notable summer signing from Harrogate Town, netted on 18 minutes, hooking the ball in from a tight angle after a cross from the right by Jay Rollins and it turned out to be the last goal in a match of few clear chances.

Yet it remained competitive throughout, a battle between two in-form teams that had each won their previous three games, while a few questionable refereeing decisions added to the drama of an eventful game.

James Westgate twice stopped play after a Boston foul instead of allowing Darlington to play on, he wrongly gave no penalty when Boston defender Ben Middleton impeded Campbell, and failed to book Jordan Thewlis for simulation when the striker pretended to be tripped by Wheatley.

The second half was largely even in terms of possession, both teams having spells with good football from Darlington, cutting through the opposition and creating opportunities without really testing Crook.

However, Campbell so nearly made it 3-1 during a purple patch, Crook leaping to his left to push away a 20-yard effort which looked destined for the top corner.

Darlington had to show their battling qualities, particularly in the closing stages when under the cosh as Boston sought an equaliser, but Liam Connell in goal has brought a reliability to the position with his safe handling and he relieved the pressure.

On loan for a month from South Shields, Armstrong will surely want to extend his stay.

He said: “We had chances for the third goal but it never came so it became backs to the wall, they went gung-ho, but we had Louis Laing on the bench so that we could put him and match them formation-wise.

“Liam Connell has given the lads calmness with his assuredness, and the lads are delighted with him.”

Boston pressed and Thewlis would’ve surely have scored with a shot in injury time, but teammate Jay Rollins got the last touch when in an offside position.

Given that seven players unavailable for a variety of reasons, this is a notable victory for Darlington, the first time they have had four wins in a row since April 2017, and it sets them up nicely for this weekend’s FA Cup tie at Tamworth.