A MIX of relief and delight met Darlington’s welcome return to form at Durham City.
After almost a month without a win and with the biggest game of the season just days away, anything other than a convincing win would have given Quakers further cause for concern.
Momentum had dipped.
Two unexpected defeats to lowly opposition as well as a couple of postponements had stilted excitement while their advantage at the top of the league ebbed away.
Their belief is now back and so too is their seven-point lead over Spennymoor Town following Saturday’s 4-0 win at Durham – as convincing as the scoreline suggests and exactly what was required ahead of Moors’ visit on Wednesday.
“We had to get back to winning ways and we did so I’m delighted with the way we reacted,” said manager Martin Gray, after seeing his team record a first clean sheet in 15 games.
“I said after losing at Aycliffe last week that we’d have a reaction, I demanded it.
“We had to start well, we had to come out of the blocks straight away and we did. Because of that, it gave the players the confidence and belief that they needed.”
Darlington looked the likely winners from the moment Terry Galbraith scored an eighth minute penalty.
Awarded after centre-back Graham Irving had felled David Dowson, the spot-kick was Quakers’ tenth of the season, nine of them successful.
Galbraith notched in his second appearance for the club, one in which he was shifted to centre-midfield where he excelled as part of Gray’s reshuffle that also saw Leon Scott move to left-back, Amar Purewal return to the forward line and Stephen Thompson go to left-wing.
It worked a treat. Thompson’s strength and close control saw him frequently dribble past his ex-team-mates while Purewal, also playing against his former club, scored twice.
Gray said: “We changed a few things around and I thought Leon adapted really well. He’s played there before.
“Terry went into midfield and some of his play was excellent. You can give him the ball and he won’t get flustered.”
The changes will have given unbeaten Spennymoor something to think about, though it is highly unlikely Quakers will enjoy as much possession as they did on Saturday.
They were on top for the bulk of the game, but, as in the defeats at Team Northumbria and Aycliffe, they wasted chances.
So it was just as well that new keeper Mark Bell was in top form. He made the first of several good saves when he denied Scott Fenwick by leaping to his left after right-back Stephen Harrison had been caught out by a crossfield ball.
Bell, who joined from West Auckland last week, further enhanced reputation at the beginning of the second half when impressively keeping out Craig Ellison as Durham threatened.
Two goals inside five minutes sealed the points. Thompson charged through a clutch of Durham players before Dowson stole the ball and lashed high into the net, and it was 3-0 when Purewal backheeled the ball home after a Galbraith pass.
Gray sent on Adam Nicholls and Michael Sweet, a Darlington-born striker on loan from Gateshead, and both were keen to make an impact.
Purewal made it 4-0 with his 14th of the season by sidefooting home from ten yards after meeting an Adam Nicholls pull-back following a neat Galbraith pass, while a sweetly-struck Sweet effort was off target in the closing stages.