Darlington’s Stephen Thompson reached 100 goals for the club this season by scoring the winner against Spennymoor Town on Boxing Day. His penalty at Blackwell Meadows won the game and in doing so matched the club record held by Alan Walsh. Deputy Sports Editor Craig Stoddart looks back on ten of his most significant moments with the club since joining early in the 2012-13 season.

The first of many

THE first of Thompson’s 100 Darlington goals came in October 2012 during a game that could easily have been postponed following torrential rain in Cumbria, a pre-match downpour having put a midweek Northern League fixture away to Penrith in serious doubt.

The pitch at the Frenchfields Stadium was passed fit, just, and Quakers won for the 11th time in their 12th match while Thompson got his first goal since signing from Durham City.

It was his fourth Darlington appearance and third start, powering the ball into the corner from 20 yards for the final goal a in a 4-1 win on a mudbath.

The 3-1 win at Spennymoor Town

DARLINGTON’S victory at Spennymoor Town in February 2013 was a key moment in the Northern League season, the night the title race turned in Quakers’ favour with Thompson central to a 3-1 win.

It was a 2,400 sell-out at the Brewery Field, the highest Northern League attendance since the 1950s, with more than half the attendance being Darlington supporters and while Thompson did not score he was involved in two of the goals as Town suffered their first league defeat.

With Terry Galbraith having levelled the score at 1-1 before the break in a fiercely competitive meeting, with 13 minutes to go Thompson took the ball off Gavin Cogdon’s toes and immediately turned defence into attack with a raking pass ahead of Steven Johnson. His pass into the centre was turned home by David Dowson and Darlington had the lead.

It was Thompson who helped seal the points with a barnstorming run down the right, holding off Steven Richardson’s challenge before delivering pass into the middle and Adam Nicholls added the final touch for 3-1.

While Town had seven games in hand at this stage, Darlington’s 18-point advantage proved too much for them.

Long-range goal at Bamber Bridge

THOMPSON’S best season for goals was 2013-14, finding the net 27 times, and his first goal of the campaign was arguably the best of his century, though it lives on only in the memories of those fortunate enough to have made it to the Sir Tom Finney Stadium.

The midweek match at Bamber Bridge, delayed an hour until 8.45pm due to traffic on the M6, was not caught on camera so many missed Stephen’s rocket.

It came in the second match of the season, ten minutes into the second half he picked up possession 30 yards from goal, took advantage of the space in front of him and blasted the ball into the roof of the net, giving the goalkeeper no chance as the ball whistled past him.

Thompson later said: “I'd settle for a tap-in every game, but when you score a screamer you enjoy celebrating it. The Bamber Bridge one was probably the best goal I've scored, that was a good goal.

“It was right in the top corner. I'd just come inside and I smashed it, one of those when as soon as it has left your foot you know it's in."

A perfect 10

IN years gone by Mark Prudhoe and Andy Collett were both given 10/10 ratings in The Northern Echo following their heroics for Darlington, and Thompson followed them after scoring three outstanding goals one afternoon in December 2013.

It was away to Burscough who played at Victoria Park and Quakers marked their fifth successive win with a 7-0 scoreline, Thompson’s treble coming inside 18 first-half minutes.

The first was a 25-yard free-kick, the second a spectacular long-range volley after taking a touch first and the third from inside the penalty area after David Dowson pulled the ball back.

Of the second goal, Thompson said: “I think the keeper thought about going for it, but then he just stood and looked at it.”

Like the belter at Bamber Bridge, this performance also went unrecorded so only the 319 present can say ‘I was there’ for Thompson’s perfect ten.

“Every time I score a worldy the camera isn't here!" Thompson told The Northern Echo afterwards. “It's happened a few times now, I'll have to save some goals for Heritage Park. “I have scored a couple of good ones at home, but if the camera man had been here it would've been nice to look back on them.”

50th goal in 100th appearance

ALL power and pace, that’s how most of Thompson’s goals are scored, larruped past a hapless goalkeeper before he has had time to think. This one, however, away to Mossley, was an altogether gentler affair and a landmark occasion too.

Alan White launched a free-kick forward, Thompson stealing the ball off a defender’s toe near the corner of the penalty area before sending it gliding over the goalkeeper and gently into the back of the net. There was no blasting the leather off the ball here, instead it was guided over the goalkeeper with precision.

It was his 50th goal in his 100th Darlington appearance and quite a way to mark the occasion.

Grantham away

THERE are always critical points in any season, and while a win at Spennymoor Town proved pivotal in 2013-13, victory away to Grantham in April 2016 saw the Northern Premier League title race swing in Quakers’ favour and Thompson was on target.

It finished 2-0, Thompson putting Darlington ahead on the hour, charging into the penalty area and beating the goalkeeper after Liam Hardy laid off a Graeme Armstrong flick-on.

While Darlington were winning in Lincolnshire, top-of-the-table Blyth Spartans surprisingly lost to Skelmersdale, allowing Quakers to close the gap to a point with two games in hand.

Having not been at the summit for six months and had been 13 points off the pace at one stage, but they timed their run to perfection, ploughing through a glut of games in a short space of time culminating in a glorious night at Whitby.

That win at Whitby

NONE of the 1,500 or so Darlington supporters present at Whitby will forget the night that their team won the Northern Premier League title, and it was Thompson who got the ball rolling.

It was the penultimate match of the 2015-16 season, a point required for promotion. There was tension and frayed nerves. Whitby had nothing to play for, yet nobody was taking anything for granted as Darlington do not usually do things easily. Yet 20 minutes in on an astonishing night they were 5-0 up, with Thompson getting the all-important first goal.

After chasing Graeme Armstrong’s flick-on, goalkeeper Shane Bland came rushing out and Thompson knocked it past him to start the celebrations with his 11th goal of the season.

It was far from the best goal he has ever scored for Darlington, but it meant a great deal, a release of emotion followed and by half-time Quakers had scored seven times.

A Thompson treble

TOMMY WRIGHT’S reign was not a success, and without Thompson’s treble at Leamington in January 2018 in the early days who knows how long the new manager would have lasted.

He had replaced Martin Gray, but his tenure started ominously with Darlington winning only one of his first 12 matches, sinking to 19th ahead of the trek to Leamington, when Thompson scored a penalty before Quakers collapsed and fell 2-1 behind.

But he equalised in the 73rd minute with an individual effort, carving open the defence down the right and striking the ball across the goalkeeper, the winner coming in injury time after a deflected cross by James Caton fell nicely for Thompson to ram home.

Victory restored some confidence and encouraged belief, Darlington going on a run that featured only one defeat in nine games.

His three other hat-tricks have come against Sunderland RCA, Burscough and Wakefield.

Goal of season 2018-19

WITH no goals in his previous 17 appearances, manager Tommy Wright trying him at right-back and even dropping him for four games, winter 2018 had not been a good time for Thompson. And then he scored the best goal of the season.

Just 11 minutes into his recall at home to Kidderminster Harriers, Thompson did not appear to be a threat as he ambled midway inside the opponents half between defence and midfield, but then plucked a long Liam Hughes pass out of the air with a delicate touch. One half-volley later and stunned goalkeeper Brandon Hall had been lobbed and Quakers were 1-0 up.

It was Thompson’s first goal from open play since the final fixture of the previous season, but he went on to finish the campaign with ten goals and 94 in total for the club in 301 games.

Goal 100

ALMOST inevitably Thompson’s ton was completed against Spennymoor Town, the club with which Darlington have had a rivalry in recent years. As he said himself after the match on Boxing Day, he could not have picked a better stage: a penalty in front of the Tin Shed to win the game and in doing so scored his 100th goal in his 325th Quakers appearance.

“It was nerve-wracking and it was quite emotional as well,” he said. “That was the dream last night, playing Spennymoor and to get the winner in front of the Tin Shed. I was drained celebrating, it took everything out of me but it was worth it.”