Teenager Dale Hopson was the star of the show as Darlington returned to action with a thoroughly deserved win at Ebbsfleet United today.

Quakers won 3-1, their victory being capped with a goal in injury time from Hopson who was making his senior debut and he marked it with a man of the match display which suggested he has a big future in the game.

The 19-year-old attack-minded midfielder, from Thornaby, has starred in the club's youth team this season, who yesterday went top joint of the table, and he transferred his form into the first team who recorded a second successive win.

Playing just behind Liam Hatch, who scored the other two goals at Stonebridge Road, Ebbsfleet had no answer to the Teessider's creativity, during arguably Darlington's best display of the season.

They created chance after chance during both periods, but led only 1-0 at the break as they wasted so many scoring opportunities.

Inside the second minute Graeme Lee headed over after an Adam Rundle cross from the left, but from the same side of the pitch came the opening goal.

Marc Bridge-Wilkinson's corner towards the near post was missed by keeper Preston Edwards and the ball fell nicely to Hatch in a central position to fire home only his second goal of the season.

He had not notched since the opening day win over Braintree and it was a sweet moment to end his drought today as he was playing against one of his former clubs, though they were called Gravesend & Northfleet when he turned out at Stonebridge Road.

Having opened the scoring, Quakers grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. Two chances in the space of 60 seconds went begging, first after Rundle played the ball across goal, but his slide-rule pass was just behind Jamie Chandler.

Then John McReady, another youth team graduate, seized on an awful pass inside the Ebbsfleet penalty area by centre-back Yado Mambo, but the young midfielder saw his low shot saved by Edwards.

Such slack passes by the hosts were commonplace and another should have led to another scoring opportunity. Rundle was gifted possession and he played the ball forward to Hatch who in turn tried to play in Hopson, but the unmarked Bridge-Wilkinson was the better option out wide.

Hopson showed some nice touches in the final third, showed a willingness to get on the ball, were chief among them being a pass that gave Rundle a great chance.

But the left-winger saw his shot saved at the near post and Quakers supporters may have been concerned they would pay as it had not been one-way traffic.

Early on Paul Arnison cleared off the line when Calum Willock gained a yard on Bridge-Wilkinson inside the penalty area, but otherwise Quakers stood firm.

The defence, strengthened by Ian Miller's return from injury, minimised Ebbsfleet's sight of goal and that meant keeper Sam Russell had little other that catching practice.

Miller and Hopson were two of five changes with that caretaker manager Craig Liddle made to the side which last played a fortnight ago when defeating AFC Telford 1-0 at The Northern Echo Arena. Also returning were Aaron Brown, Hatch and Rundle with Exodus Geohagon, Greg Taylor, John Campbell, James Gray and leading scorer Ryan Bowman making way.

Since they previously played, Quakers lost Taylor to Luton and Campbell to Bedlington while Geohagon's departure has hit a late snag and Bowman, with four goals this season, has suffered a hamstring strain in training.

Darlington cranked up the pressure in the second half, continuing their patient build-up and pinning Ebbsfleet into their own half with Hopson the chief tormentor.

A slick inter-change with McReady on the right, allowed full-back Arnison to make a marauding run up the flank that led to Chandler taking up a shooting position, but his effort from the edge of the penalty area was well off target.

Soon after Hopson played a ball in for Hatch, but the striker's shot was superbly tipped away by Preston Edwards, and after the resulting corner the keeper had to dive to his right to stop a drive from distance by Miller who had been teed up by Hopson.

With Darlington dominant, the chances kept on coming. Hopson made a perfectly-weighted pass that allowed Chandler to drive in between two defenders, but the midfielder mis-controlled and the moment was gone.

Timing sublime passes was a feature of Hopson's game, and another example saw him play in Hatch, but again the striker was denied by Edwards while Chandler, with the goal at his mercy, blasted the loose ball over the bar from an angle.

Hopson's next involvement, inevitably, was another defence-splitting pass and this time it was to Rundle whose shot on the turn was tipped over by Edwards who was clearly the hosts' man of the match.

Yet, despite Darlington's superiority, it remained only 1-0 and midway through the second period Liddle's men paid for their profligacy.

Ebbsfleet enjoyed a brief possession during which they won a rare corner, they ball was played back in from the right by Michael West to leading scorer Willock who beat Russell to the ball.

The header was his 12th goal of the season, three times as many as Darlington's top scorer.

But far from being stunned by the injustice of conceding, Quakers regained their focus and were almost immediately back on the attack. Five minutes later they regained the lead with Hatch scoring his third of the season.

Hopson played in Bridge-Wilkinson who cross from the left to the far post allowed Hatch to benefit from woeful marking to blast past an exposed Edwards.

The lead was entirely merited as by that stage Darlington should have been well clear, yet in the closing stages, with the host piling on pressure, Darlington lost their composure and began to panic.

Pinned into their own half, the final ten minutes were an anxious time with Russell making a couple of crucial saves.

His first was to tip over Liam Enver-Marum's blast after the unmarked Paul Lorraine nodded the ball into his path and he also had to save from Tom Phipp during an end-to-end finish.

Hopson will receive all the plaudits, but a superbly-timed Miller tackle on Willock in the penalty area denied the striker a shooting opportunity - even though the hosts were adamant it was a foul – and was crucial in securing the points.

The victory was sealed deep into injury time with Hopson grabbing a goal typical of his sublime display.

After an Ebbsfleet corner, Darlington broke with substitute striker James Gray launching the ball forward, Craig Stone missed his kick and that gave Hopson a one-on-one opportunity which he finished with aplomb.

The teenager showed admirable composure to round the keeper and slot home, sparking celebrations in the Darlington dug-out and behind the goal as Quakers enjoyed a morale-boosting win.

The victory lifts Darlington up a place to 14th, swapping places with Ebbsfleet, having been overtaken by them last Saturday when they defeated Stockport County in a rearranged game.

It has been a worrying time for the club of late, with suggestions that Darlington's days were numbered. Chairman Raj Singh reacted furiously to the FA Cup defeat at Hinckley, demanding players leave and in a cost-cutting exercise, but today's performance, and certainly that of Hopson's, will lift spirits.

Goals: Hatch (20, 0-1); Willock (66, 1-1); Hatch (71, 1-2); Hopson (90, 1-3)

Bookings: Miller (38, foul); Stone (43, foul); Chandler (80, dissent); Bridge-Wilkinson (84, time wasting); Enver-Marum (dissent 88)

Referee: Mike Bull

Attendance: 1,087

Ebbsfleet United: Edwards; Stone, Mambo, Lorraine, Howe; Shakes (Enver-Marum 52), Marwa, Barrett (Phipp 81); West, Willock, Pinney (Darvill 89). Subs (not used): Welch (gk), Simpemba

Darlington (4-4-1-1): Russell; Arnison, Miller, Lee, Brown; McReady (J Gray 90), Chandler, Bridge-Wilkinson, Rundle; Hopson; Hatch. Subs (not used): Nixon (gk), Taylor, Atkinson, Quinn