Darlington 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

DARLINGTON responded to their weekend 5-1 humiliation at Hereford United in the best possible manner last night as their defence returned to its formidable best.

Having not won in three games, Quakers earned three badly-needed points thanks to a tenth clean sheet of the season and goals either side of half-time from Julian Joachim and Joe Colbeck.

It was not the most entertaining game, but after the weekend horror show Quakers could not have cared less as the win repaired dented pride ahead of this weekend's FA Cup tie at home to Northampton Town.

However, Darlington will be hoping for a bigger gate than the 2,628 who turned up last night - the lowest ever at the Arena for a league game.

Manager Dave Penney admitted that a win was essential, although wins for Hereford and Peterborough meant his side remain fifth.

He said: "I wouldn't say morale was low after Saturday, but it took a knock and it was important we put things right tonight.

"With not having a league game for ten days we had to win and it was important that we reacted the right way after Saturday.

"A draw or a loss would have affected the momentum,so this was a massive game. If we hadn't won that would have meant us not winning in four games and then having a tough trip to Brentford a week on Saturday.

"But any win tonight was a good result. We needed to get back on track so to get a clean sheet was excellent."

The opening stages were lowkey as neither side appeared capable of troubling the opposition's keeper with two half chances being the best both teams could muster in the opening 25 minutes.

First, Colbeck showed a great burst of speed to race up the left, carrying the ball half the length of the pitch, but his cross fell behind Joachim at the far post.

Minutes later Shrewsbury's Steve Leslie sent over a low cross, which evaded everybody in the penalty area.

With Tim Ryan injured, John Brackstone was handed his first league start since signing from Hartlepool United in the summer.

He received the nod over Rob Purdie, who dropped to the bench, but Brackstone's first contribution was to fire a 25-yard free-kick straight into the defensive wall.

Gregg Blundell started while Ricky Ravenhill was dropped in favour of Micky Cummins.

But it was two of the players who kept their places - Joachim and Neil Austin - who combined to put Darlington ahead with a fine goal just before the half hour mark.

They played a neat one-two in Shrews' penalty area, which put the former Aston Villa forward in position to fire a low, left-footed shot past keeper Glynn Garner at his near post.

His third goal of the season came just as Darlington began to mount some pressure. Moments earlier Austin's cross had led to Clark Keltie showing great technique to volley from long-range but Garner, who had a few shaky moments early on, gathered the ball cleanly.

Five minutes later, Steve Foster must have thought he was going to make it 2-0 when he turned with the ball on the sixyard line, but Shrewsbury captain Stuart Drummond just nicked it off the Quakers skipper's toes.

Just before the break, with Quakers by now enjoying far more possession, Tommy Wright was just inches away from doubling Darlington's advantage.

However, his low drive from an angle flew just the wrong side of the post.

But it was just as close to becoming 1-1 as Shrews midfielder David Hunt saw his 20-yard effort narrowly roll wide, and from even further out Marc Tierney's powerful low effort was just wide within 60 seconds of the restart.

With Quakers perhaps wary of the importance of winning, the second half began in similar fashion to the first. Tierney's speculative shot aside, there was little in the way of scoring chances.

But out of the blue, just after the hour, Darlington made it 2-0 with Colbeck scoring his second in as many games after a lightening break into the opposition half.

The move started with a Shrewsbury throw deep into Darlington territory that was cleared and Keltie's header sent Colbeck racing into the opposition half.

He laid the ball off to Blundell, who held off of a defender to return the ball to Colbeck and the on-loan winger calmly slotted the ball past the keeper from inside the penalty area.

At 2-0 up, and with Darlington's defence back to pre-Hereford standards, the points were almost assured and it was not until the 76th minute that keeper David Stockdale was called into action.

He had to catch the ball from Dave Hibbert's 16-yard volley, and then sub Stuart Nicholson fired into the side-netting as Quakers closed the game out.

There was a scare in injury time, but Stockdale showed bravery to close down Hibbert and save his shot to ensure victory and another clean sheet.