Darlington boss Gray states case for defence

First published in Sport Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy Sports Editor

His free-scoring team hit the 70-goal landmark this week, and now it is Darlington's defence that manager Martin Gray would like to laud.

Wednesday's 4-1 win over Billingham Synthonia not only restored their seven- point lead at the top of the Ebac Northern League, but also took Quakers' tally to 70 goals in 21 games.

They may be scoring an average of over three goals a game, but at the other end of the pitch Darlington have been less than watertight and it frustrates Gray.

His team have conceded 21 goals in as many games, which is among the fewest in the division, but they have not kept a clean sheet in their past 12 league games while Synners scored through Andrew Jennings when Quakers failed to defend a throw-in.

"We have to get back to keeping clean sheets. I wasn't happy with the goal that we conceded on Wednesday, it wasn't good enough defending," said Gray, who takes his team to Team Northumbria today.

"It's annoying for me, it was a sloppy goal to concede and we didn't do that at the start of the season.

"I want to build our teams on clean sheets and I know you can't expect that every week, but you can't afford to give cheap goals away.

"Our goals on Wednesday came through hard work - the first was fantastic build-up play, pass, pass, pass - but we gave them a goal.

"It was a basic set-piece, a ball into feet, we didn't double up when marking, which we have stressed the importance of, and so the striker turns and scores. It was a cheap; throw-in, turn, shoot, goal.

"We've got to improve on that kind of thing, but if one thing is for sure, the players do listen and we have to make sure it doesn't happen anymore."

Gray will today target a first clean sheet since September 22 at Coach Lane against 18th placed Team Northumbria who, in contrast to Quakers, are in poor form. Their only win in their past ten league and cup games was a League Cup penalty shoot-out victory over Guisborough Town, while last Saturday they shipped five goals to lowly Newton Aycliffe.

Manager Paul Johnson was furious with his team, saying: "That was some of the worst defending I've ever seen our players put in, from front to back.

"We've got to be clear that it's not just defenders but it all starts from the front and they pretty much went from back to front and we didn't deal with that ball.

"Fundamentally our defenders didn't deal with the long ball, our press was poor and our desire to win the ball was average."

Gray is expecting a reaction today, and he warned: "They're quite similar to Synners in that they like to play and they're a very good footballing team.

"They gained promotion last year having done really well in the division below, so we've got to make sure we do things right.

"They've got three or four players who are of a real good standard so we can't take our foot off the gas at all."

Having reached 70 goals already, Darlington are on course to surpass the 100-goal mark for the first time since then early 1950s and for only the fourth time in their history.

They have shared the goals around too, with Craig Gott becoming their 14th different scorer when he put Quakers ahead on Wednesday.

David Dowson did not get on the scoresheet, but he was involved in all four of his team's four goals, either due to a pass or forcing a mistake from a Synners' player, and Gray was delighted the striker's contribution.

He said: "Our players worked really hard, pressing high up the pitch, and David Dowson's work ethic was tremendous.

"Two of our goals came from him closing people down. He's an example to anyone of how to work up front and even though he didn't get a goal, he did a great job for the team."

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