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Quakers stake claim to finish top of pile

Darlington and Stockton Times: ALL SMILES: Stephen Thompson, second left, is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring against Kendal ALL SMILES: Stephen Thompson, second left, is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring against Kendal

THERE have been times of late when Darlington must have wondered if they would ever make inroads in the fight for promotion, writes Craig Stoddart.

During a winning run stretching back to November, it had become tediously frustrating at full-time to hear that their rivals had also taken three points.

Saturday, though, when the teams around them finally dropped points, proved that Quakers can still finish top of the pile and the manner of a 5-1 victory amid the stormy weather in Kendal demonstrated they also have the mettle required to do so.

Darlington conceded an early goal for the second successive game, a handball in the penalty area by Joe Tait punished by Kendal scoring from the spot through Warren Beattie.

But Purewal restored parity on the half hour, heading home after meeting a cross by Stephen Harrison.

In a strong start to the second half by Darlington, there were two good chances, keeper Danny MaDonald saving from Stephen Thompson and David Dowson, before the long-awaited second goal. But it was worth waiting for, Thompson scoring his 40th goal for the club in fitting style, lashing home from outside the penalty area after Purewal held the ball up.

The strike came shortly after manager Martin Gray made what proved to be a decisive substitution, replacing Tait with Dale Hopson, who opened up the home side with his slick passing.

Gray said: “Dale came on and changed the game for us.

He scored two goals and got himself an assist. We went 4-4-2 to finish off – Dale on the right, Tommo on the left – and it worked. Dale didn’t start because of the conditions, I needed some strong boys in there, but as the game went on we needed a little bit of creativity and he showed his class on the ball.”

Also impressive was fellow former Darlington youth team player Rob Ramshaw, the midfielder playing after joining on loan from Gateshead.

His quality of pass and bravery on the ball and in the tackle suggests Gray has made a smart transfer.

It was Hopson, though, who proved the difference for the final three goals. After a dribble into the penalty area was abruptly ended, the ball dropped kindly for Jordan Robinson to score his first league goal for the club.

And there was no let-up from Darlington, whose goal difference is now easily the best in the division.

Hopson got the fourth when he dribbled away from the defence to confidently shoot beyond the keeper and added the fifth when tapping into the net following a pass by Purewal in the penalty area to complete a hard-earned victory.

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