There were celebrations and sheer relief at the final whistle as Darlington sealed their place in National League North with a crucial win against relegation rivals Farsley Celtic.

For both sides it was a must-win match, Quakers having clawed their way up the table since Steve Watson’s appointment on the final day of 2023.

He and assistant Terry Mitchell, with the addition of some astute signings, have guided Darlington to a great escape, one that appeared highly unlikely in February when the gap to safety was nine points.

Three second-half goals today by Jake Lawlor, Aidan Rutledge and Cedric Main completed the job, meaning Quakers are assured of National League North football next season.

Whereas Farsley’s fate will be decided on the final day of the season, though they made the closing stages nervy for Darlington by pulling a goal back at 2-1.

There were no goals before the break during a tense first 45 minutes, when a strong wind at Quakers’ backs played havoc, causing some Farsley goal kicks to hold up in mid-air.

Early on, Cameron Salkeld fired narrowly over from 20 yards, and Main misconnected with a close-range header.

The only team that looked like scoring was Darlington, and they should have taken the lead when a fine piece of skill inside the penalty area by Main played in Salkeld, but he missed a superb opportunity with only the goalkeeper to beat from ten yards.

Main also used his strength to hold off a defender and play in Ben Hedley, but the right-back’s left-footed shot hit the side-netting.

It was a fine opportunity wasted, and did little to alleviate the nerves among the bulk of the 2,261 crowd.

The moment they had been praying for, however, came eight minutes into the second half. Scott Barrow’s free-kick from the left was met by Jake Lawlor, his towering header giving the Quakers a hugely significant 1-0 lead.

And when Rutledge smashed home a second from outside the penalty area to double Darlington’s advantage it appeared game over, safety effectively assured.

While Darlington goalkeeper Matty Young saved a tame Conor Branson header, Farsley hardly threatened, Watson’s men limiting their chances.

However, right-sided midfielder Ben Atkinson pulled one back late on with the aid of a deflection, his shot from inside the penalty area hitting Barrow on the way in and it sparked considerable nerves in the Quakers ranks.

The goal came with seven minutes to play, creating a tortuous finish for Darlington, particularly when an additional six minutes of added time were indicated.

Quakers were kicking the ball clear in any direction, making desperate blocks and tackles, whatever it took to protect Young’s goal.

So there was huge relief when, after a raid down the left and a couple of shots were blocked, Main smashed home a third goal in injury time to spark Darlington celebrations.

Finally, safety had been achieved. And fittingly, the crucial goal was Darlington’s 1,000th since the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

Despite a pitch invasion at full-time and a lap of appreciation by the players, Darlington have won nothing but it certainly felt as though they have achieved something.

After 31 league matches, they had won six times (eight in 48 including last season). They’ve since won ten out of 14 to complete a remarkable turnaround, one that few saw coming.

The onus is now on Darlington to ensure Watson and Mitchell sign contracts committing themselves to The Quakers, and make sure a season as traumatic as this does not happen again.

Darlington: Young; Hedley (Griffiths 82), Lees, Lawlor, Barrow; Cornish (Rivers 60), Platt, Hatfield, Salkeld (Liddle 76); Main, Rutledge. Subs not used: Curry, Nelson

Farsley Celtic: Leban; Assense, Branson, Sheridan; Watson, B Atkinson, Evans, Carroll; Coulson; Donaldson, Stephenson (Silva 65). Subs not used: Allen, C Atkinson, Watson, Leverett

Referee: Luis Griffiths

Attendance: 2,261