IN rewriting the history books yesterday, Hartlepool United took another giant leap towards League One football next season and, in the process, dented derby rivals Darlington's own promotion aspirations.

Danny Wilson's men couldn't have dreamt for a more ideal setting to set a new club record of 22 league games without defeat, with a result which was also their biggest ever win at Darlington.

Yesterday's victory takes Hartlepool five points clear at the top of League Two and, perhaps more importantly with seven games remaining, gives them an 11-point cushion inside the automatic promotion places.

In this kind of form, promotion is all but assured for Pools, especially after yesterday's ruthless display of finishing from striker Eifion Williams.

Darlington's situation remains far from clear after their 13-match unbeaten run was brought to an abrupt end and with it the chance to move into the play-off places for the first time since September.

So often in the past have Quakers failed to perform on the big occasion at the 96,6TFM Darlington Arena. Yesterday's defeat means they have lost each of the seven matches which have attracted over 6,000 fans at the ground.

They have even failed to score in each of those not-so-magnificent seven, but in front of the biggest derby attendance since 1964, yesterday's defeat could prove most costly of all.

Quakers remain in the play-off picture, but with Shrewsbury one place below them with three games in hand, their destiny is out of their own hands.

But they will have to do it without defender Ian Miller, who was recalled by Ipswich Town at the weekend. In addition Penney also faces the prospect of losing his other central defender David Wheater, who returns to Middlesbrough after the Barnet game on Saturday.

How Penney must wish he had the central defensive pairing of Ben Clark and Micky Nelson for the run-in.

The pair snuffed out everything Darlington could throw at them in a bright opening half-hour from the home side.

But it was the brilliance of Williams at the other end which effectively decided yesterday's 145th meeting between the sides.

A goal either side of half-time from the 31-year-old put Pools in the driving seat, his second strike of the afternoon a contender for goal of the season.

Andy Monkhouse made it three late on to extend his own incredible record of not losing a single game in 30 appearances this season.

Miller's absence was certainly felt as Darlington's previous run of four games without conceding became a distant memory by full-time.

The unavailability of Miller meant a first start in two months for Tim Ryan. There was also a place on the Quakers bench for winger Rory Prendergast following his loan move from Rochdale, while Ryan filled in the void left by Miller, who was forced to watch the game from the stands before returning to Suffolk.

Pools remained unchanged, although there was a place on the bench for Craig Hignett, who scored nine goals in 17 appearances for Quakers during the 2004/05 season. Hignett joined the club on transfer deadline day on a contract until the end of the season.

Predictably, the game began at a blistering pace and Welsh striker Williams recorded the game's first effort in the second minute, but his effort flashed well wide of Sam Russell's goal.

At the other end defender Nelson was strong in beating Wheater to the ball from Hartlepool-born defender Evan Horwood's dangerous cross.

And only the heroics of Dimi Konstantopoulos prevented Quakers from taking an 11th minute lead. Ryan's free-kick from 25 yards was rising towards the top corner via a deflection, but Konstantopoulos was equal, brilliantly tipping away.

As Pools have done on so many occasions this season, they soaked up the early pressure as Darlington dominated the opening stages.

And when they did break they looked dangerous. Only a last gasp challenge from Wheater denied what looked like a certain goal, the giant defender throwing himself in front of Monkhouse's shot from 12 yards.

There were appeals for a Pools penalty in the 24th minute when Wheater, rather clumsily, landed on top of Williams, but referee Richard Beeby was not convinced.

But for all Darlington's early possession, their final ball into the box was poor, easy pickings for the giant defensive pairing of Nelson and Clark.

And Quakers were made to pay when Williams struck the first goal of the afternoon five minutes before half-time. Latching on to a throw into the box, Williams held off Wheater before smashing the ball across Russell into the net.

Just moments after Russell saved with his feet from Gary Liddle, Williams claimed his second goal of the afternoon with the most sublime of finishes in the 51st minute.

Williams' first touch to control Micky Barron's ball was deft and his second was devastating, guiding the ball over Russell and into the back of the net.

With Pools in the ascendancy Richie Barker almost made it three when he directed his header from a tight angle over the bar.

After Williams' sucker-punch, Darlington's contribution in the final third in the second half was minimal. With Pools' back four commanding when called upon, the home side tried their chances from range with Ricky Ravenhill sending an effort over the bar in the 71st minute.

And as Pools, backed by 3,750 visiting fans, approached their historic milestone, Monkhouse put the icing on the cake with a third goal in the 80th minute.

James Brown's low shot rebounded off the foot of the post and Monkhouse was quickest to react, heading the ball past Russell.

Tommy Wright's miss from two yards close to full-time summed up a miserable afternoon for Quakers as Pools marched on with one foot surely now in League One.