DARLINGTON manager Steve Watson joked that it was the first time that he’d ever celebrated finishing 18th in the league as Quakers clinched safety from relegation at a packed Blackwell Meadows.

Darlington's victory over Farsley means that with one game left they are five points ahead of their West Yorkshire opponents, who will now have a last day cliffhanger over whether they or Blyth will be relegated, unless Rushall Olympic are forcibly relegated if their ground isn’t up to standard.

The transformation has been truly remarkable since Watson and his assistant Terry Mitchell took over from Josh Gowling at the turn of the year when Quakers were nine points adrift of safety with just 19 points to their credit.  Saturday’s win was the 12th in 21 league games under Watson, play-off form any other time.

Quakers’ future in National League North looked grim when they lost 1-0 at home to Scarborough on December 30, but Watson, who revealed that he is deep in contract talks with the club, brought in three new players plus assistant manager Mitchell, created a strong team spirit and added his own extensive experience to carry them through.

The final whistle on Saturday was met with a mixture of relief and celebration as relegation would have been disastrous for the club, and there were loud cheers when the players and coaching team enjoyed a well-deserved lap of appreciation.

“I never thought I’d celebrate finishing 18th in the table!” joked Watson. “It’s a really good achievement. The players have bought into everything that Terry and I have tried to implement, the backroom staff have played their part and the supporters have been fantastic throughout the whole time that we’ve been here.

“But that’s not the benchmark that this football club should be looking at. Certainly as long as I’m here, I won’t be celebrating 18th again.

“What’s been good about the players is that whenever there’s been a backward step, they’ve responded really well. Even on the pitch, whenever we conceded, the players kept playing and carving out chances.”

This was Quakers’ third successive win to lift them out of trouble, with the home side overcoming the blustery wind that made good football impossible in the first half for both teams.

“That’s two games in a row now that we’ve done very well indeed against the wind," said Watson. "It wasn’t easy for the players to relax on the ball when you’re out there and there’s so much riding on the game.

“We had a quiet chat at half-time, and I knew we’d play better in the second half because the ball wasn’t running away from us so much. We could have won a bit more comfortably.

“It’s been a good way to finish the season, we didn’t want to go to Chester on Saturday wanting a win. We can go there now in a relaxed frame of mind.”

It was clear from the opening exchanges that both sides would struggle in the blustery wind, but Quakers carved out more chances. Cameron Salkeld fired just over from the edge of the box from a Ben Hedley pass, then Cedric Main’s header from Matty Cornish’s cross was saved by Farsley keeper Zan-Luk Leban.

Salkeld played a one-two with Main but dragged his shot wide of the post, then just on half-time Ben Hedley fired into the side-netting.

Farsley started the second half aggressively with the wind at their backs, but Quakers took command on 52 minutes. Scott Barrow perfectly floated a free-kick over from the left for Jake Lawlor to charge in and beat Leban with a header, his first goal of the season.

It was 2-0 nine minutes later. Aidan Rutledge controlled a cross-field pass on the corner of the Farsley area, ran to the edge of the box and fired left-footed into the top corner – his second goal for the club.

Cedric Main missed a chance for a third, before Farsley stunned the 2,261 home crowd when they pulled a goal back with a low shot by Ben Atkinson.

The nerves were shredded before sub Kallum Griffiths broke away on the right and found Salkeld, whose shot was blocked by Leban, who in turn saved from Jarrett Rivers, but he couldn’t stop Main from blasting the ball home to huge relief and delight around the ground.