Quakers wary of Johnson

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

Darlington must combat the threat of the Northern League's most potent goalscorer when they take on their Heritage Park landlords today.

They go in search of an eighth successive win when they face fifth-placed Bishop Auckland, for whom Andy Johnson has scored 63 league goals since the beginning of last season.

He is clear at the top of the scoring chart with 24, three ahead of West Auckland's Mattie Moffat, and is the only player to have bagged three hat-tricks.

No Quakers player has hit a treble, but they are top of the league by 21 points after beginning the season by defeating Bishops back in August.

Johnson opened the scoring that day when Bishops gave Quakers a tough welcome, and boss Martin Gray expects more of the same.

"Bishops are a very good team," said Gray, whose side beat Penrith on Wednesday.

"I've watched their last two matches and we've had a couple of match reports done so we know we're in for a hard game.

"Everyone wants to put one over Darlo. We've had that every week so they'll be no different to anyone else."

On Johnson, Gray added: "He is a real goalscorer, he's prolific. Give him a chance and he'll score a goal."

Despite being able to count on Johnson's goal threat, Bishops boss Colin Myers has warned that his team must improve if they are to compete with Darlington.

Myers' men have lost only once in their past 11 games at Heritage Park, scoring 35 goals in the process.

But they were less than convincing during a 2-1 win over Norton in the Durham Challenge Cup on Tuesday.

"If we don't up our game then we'll be in big trouble," said Myers. "We've only just been scraping by in the last two games, and we've got to improve drastically.

"Are the players dropping their standards? Hopefully we'll be a different team and give Darlington a game."

Quakers have the opportunity to, briefly at least, create a 24-point cushion above second place as they play at 12pm while all other league games are 3pm kick-offs.

They moved 21 points clear over joint-second Spennymoor and West Auckland with a midweek 1-0 win over Penrith, who made Darlington work hard on a pitch that Bishops played on 24 hours previously.

"The pitch is heavy going," said Gray. "The wide areas are decent so the message to the players on Wednesday was to get the ball down and get it out wide early.

"We needed an early goal to settle things. Had we got a goal in the first 15 minutes, we'd have probably ended up winning three or 4-0.

"The longer the game went on, the harder they tried to stop us and the more they slowed the game down.

"Fair play to them, that was their game-plan and had we drawn 0-0 I'd have said the same.

"Teams set up to be as difficult to play against as possible and if I was their manager I'd have done the same thing.

"I'm sure if they played at Guisborough or somewhere, they won't play 4-5-1 and work as hard as that. It's just something that we have to put up with."

Terry Galbraith's penalty five minutes from time won the points, five days after a crucial win at Spennymoor.

Gray added: "We had a really good win last week, but the most important thing was getting players' minds back on this week.

"We had training on Tuesday and had a meeting to talk about the importance of Wednesday's game because if we hadn't taken maximum points against Penrith then last Friday would've meant nothing.

"Hopefully it will be a fantastic atmosphere on Saturday and we need our fans to turn up in a big way, as they did at Spennymoor."We need that big support again and a lot of noise. Our players play better in front of a big crowd, it's as simple as that."

Craig Gott remains injured with an ankle problem, while Bishops striker Dale Jardine will have a fitness test, but defender Steve Tobin returns.

* Darlington have announced dates for their three outstanding fixtures.

Celtic Nation will visit Heritage Park on Wednesday, March 20 (7.30pm) while there will be a double-header with Sunderland RCA.

First up is the home game game with RCA on Saturday, March 30 (3pm) with the away game following on Wednesday, April 3 (7.30pm).

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