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Provett’s heroics finally overcome by Quakers
Final Score: Norton & Stockton Ancients 2 Darlington 4
The dubious goals committee would have been putting in overtime had they been present at Station Road yesterday.
Doubt was cast over the identity of the scorer of three of the six goals as Darlington made hard work of overcoming lowly Norton & Stockton Ancients 4-2.
But manager Martin Gray was always in no doubt that his team would come good.
On a bog of a pitch, Quakers were made to work hard by the relegation-threatened Teessiders, who had goalkeeper Jim Provett to thank for keeping his side in the game for so long.
It was not until the 72nd minute that Darlington edged ahead, Michael Sweet being credited with a goal for his hometown team.
Also on the scoresheet were Adam Nicholls, Stephen Thompson and Stephen Harrison as Quakers, eventually, made the most of creating so many opportunities.
"I thought it was a good performance and if we'd taken our chances it could've been a really high scoreline," said the manager, who after the game headed for Heritage Park, where he saw Saturday's opponents Bishop Auckland overcome Newton Aycliffe 3-1.
"The pitch was difficult for both teams, but having said that some of our attacking play was excellent fron the front two, the wide players and the midfield two.
"David Dowson had two one-on-ones in the first half, their keeper made some world-class saves. We could've been 4-0 up, no arguments.
"They were great chances and the keeper couldn't be expected to keep making great saves. It was only a matter of time before one went in.
"The keeper's had his game of the season today, but eventually our quality came through."
It did, but it took some time for the quality to be reflected in the goals tally.
Jonny Davis and Nathan Thomas, making their full debuts, both blazed over with optimistic long-range efforts.
After collecting a precise Davis through-ball, Dowson had an effort cleared off the line by centre-back Dale Mulligan, whose name is familiar to Quakers.
The brother of former Darlington winger Nathan Mulligan, Dale put his side ahead just after the half-hour mark.
After a corner, he celebrated scoring from close-range, but it was the first case for the dubious goals committee as Quakers keeper Mark Bell appeared to inadvertently hook the ball into his own net.
However, conceding a goal succeeded in kicked Quakers into gear.
Provett, a former Hartlepool keeper, made the first of his eye-catching saves to deny Dowson and Nicholls, but he was finally beaten by a deflected effort.
Nicholls' low shot diverted into the net off team-mate Gary Brown, but the captain honourably allowed Quakers' right-winger to add the strike to his tally.
Brown clearly gets his kicks from keeping the ball out of Darlington's net, but Norton netted again only eight minutes into the second half.
After Provett saved low from Terry Galbraith, at the other end Anthony Hume headed Norton back into the lead, taking advantage of slack marking to meet Callum Brown's left-wing cross.
"I was disappointed with the goals we conceded, they were cheap goals to give away and we can't be doing that," admitted Gray, who quickly sent on Amar Purewal and Sweet. The changes coincided with Quakers taking control.
Andy Harbron escaped punishment when he handled Nicholls' cross in the box, but it was not long before the always-involved Stephen Thompson made it 2-2.
The busy attacker, a bundle of energy when the ball is at his feet, popped up all over the final third and one driving run into the penalty area ended in a low shot past Provett.
He was soon involved again, this time providing a cross that Sweet headed home via Harbron.
The Norton skipper will appreciate not being awarded an own goal, as the ball clearly glanced off him, but Gray was adamant that Sweet, a teenager on loan from Sunderland, had opened his account.
He said: "The substitutions livened us up and it was good to see a Darlington lad score a goal for his hometown club.
"It was definitely his goal, a header off Thompson's ball in."
Darlington finished with a flourish. Right-back Harrison sealed the win when he placed the ball into the net from a tight angle following a prolonged passing move.
They looked good for more goals at the end of a match that was the tenth in which they have scored four goals or more.
Andy Campbell, Norton's player-manager, led the line for the Ancients.
Though he was never a goal threat, the former Middlesbrough striker took plenty of encouragement in his side's performance.
"I thought we battled well, gave a good account of ourselves and gave them a bit of a scare," he said.
"Luck isn't going our way with a deflected goal for the first one and an own goal for the third.
"But the I think the way we played against a very good Darlington side will raise confidence levels with the boys.
"We got at Darlington, so when we play them down there on a Wednesday there is nothing to be scared of. It's a free game for us."