Final Score: Marske United 0 Darlington 5
ON the same day that Mowden Park played their first game at Darlington's former home, Quakers had enough chances to record a rugby score as they strolled to victory at Marske United.
Darlington showed no signs of rustiness as they carried on from where they left off at South Shields a month ago when they last played.
The only disappointment was that they did not score more.
A combination of poor finishing and fine saves by Marske's Ollie West kept the tally down as, with Spennymoor on FA Vase duty, Quakers stretched their lead at the top of the Ebac Northern League to nine points.
Two goals apiece from David Dowson and Steven Johnson, plus a Terry Galbraith penalty secured a victory that swept any pre-match doubts aside.
Without their suspended captain Gary Brown and faced with a heavy pitch having not played a match for a month, the excuses for a shock defeat lay in wait.
Instead, Quakers enjoyed as comfortable a win as they've had all season, providing reassurance that they've not been affected by an enforced mid-winter break.
Postponements had left Darlington kicking their heels for four weeks while Marske had also been out of action since January 12.
But Martin Gray's side did not look back from the moment Dowson scored on 19 minutes. After a Galbraith corner, he fired home at the near post and from that point it was case of how many.
"It was an outstanding performance on what was a horrendous surface," said Gray.
"I was a bit concerned before the game because the pitch can be a leveller, no matter which team comes here. We asked the players to stick to the game-plan that we'd worked on and they listened.
"We put Marske under so much pressure because we made the right decisions, putting the ball into the channels."
The pitch was certainly poor - boggy and sandy in equal measure - but Marske deserve credit for getting the game on. They were at the ground from 7am to ensure the pitch passed a mid-morning inspection.
Just as well too as Marske, off the field at least, enjoyed a day that saw them roundly praised for their welcoming approach.
Commemorative scarves and badges sold well and the 1,489 attendance was a club record.
On the pitch though, Marske were perhaps too welcoming, but there was little they could do stem the tide as Darlington created a flurry of chances.
Stephen Thompson and Amar Purewal were both denied by West while Adam Nicholls shot wide when he should have at least tested the keeper and Dowson fired over when one-on-one.
Some of the finishing would have been more suited to the rugby posts now in place at The Northern Echo Arena. Joe Tait lifted one volley so high over the bar that it would've earned three points had he been playing for Mowden.
Five minutes before the break, however, it was 2-0 after Adam Wheatley tripped Thompson and Galbraith blasted home Darlington's tenth penalty of the season.
Although facing a two-goal deficit, Marske manager Ted Watts retained hope.
"I felt we were still in it at half-time," he said. "So I told them that we needed to start the second half well, but for the first 15 minutes we just stopped completely - that was the most disappointing thing.
"When it got to three and 4-0 we just gave in, which is very disappointing.
"We showed very little spirit and heart. We discussed it in the changing room afterwards.
"The only one that deserves any praise is the keeper. He saved a penalty, he made some brilliant saves and kept the scoreline respectable because it could've been double figures."
After a series of passes outside Marske's penalty area, Dowson drove home a shot for his tenth goal of the season and it should have been 4-0 when Purewal rounded West, but he shot wide.
West then enjoyed his highlight, saving a Dowson penalty. The keeper had fouled Thompson, but flung himself to his right to keep out Dowson's well-struck effort.
The save meant Darlington are still waiting for their first hat-trick of the season, despite their goal tally now reaching 87.
Goals number 86 and 87 both came from Steven Johnson. On as a substitute for his first league appearance since October due to injury, he latched on to a Thompson's through-ball for to lash beyond West, and completed the scoring after the keeper had parried a Thompson shot.
"I don't want to be negative, but it could've been 10-0," added Gray.
"The performance at South Shields a month ago was similar, hard-working. We probably created more chances today and I'm delighted with the lads."