9:00am Monday 24th March 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Full-time: Prescot Cables 0 Darlington 0
Just over a week ago Darlington remained intent on reaching the top of the table, however fanciful that hope may have been. Three games without a win later and they're suddenly looking over their shoulder at the teams creeping up behind them.
Lancaster are well-placed, three points behind with a game in hand, while Farsley and Ramsbottom also have an extra fixture to fulfill as they vie for the four play-off spots with Warrington and Darlington.
Five into four won't go and what's mildly concerning for Quakers is their dip comes when a play-off place is far from secure.
Having drawn at Northwich last week and then hammered in midweek by Curzon, on Saturday Darlington drew 0-0 at lowly Prescot Cables.
Should they be involved in the end-of-season jamboree, it is hoped by then they will return to something like their best during the remaining eight league matches.
For spells on Saturday at Prescot, a team fighting against relegation that had conceded a minimum of two goals in each of their previous four games, Darlington were dominant, especially in the latter stages when pushing for a winner and they had four men up front after substitutes Steven Johnson and David Dowson were sent on.
One goal would've snapped the Cables' stubborn resistance, but it would not come.
Debutant Adam Mitchell was hugely impressive on the right-wing, delivering a stream of crosses.
He hit the bar with a cross-cum-shot while Amar Purewal was denied in the final minute when goalkeeper Richard Mottram made a terrific save.
But it's now eight games since Purewal scored and Stephen Thompson has netted just twice in the same period, a spell which coincides with Darlington's return action following a break during early February after a run of postponements, since when they have not been at their best.
The addition of Ian Ward, a target man striker who played his final game for Durham on Saturday, gives Gray a much-needed option at a time when his team has scored only once in three matches.
The lack of goals aside, however, the boss was pleased with Saturday's display.
"We needed to put in a good performance today and it was crucial to keep a clean sheet. We got both of those things," said the manager.
"We're disappointed that we didn't win the game, but we dominated the match for 90 minutes.
"We created so many chances and we won so many corners. I couldn't ask much more from the players apart from to put the ball in the back of the net."
Whereas Darlington were on top, Thompson putting a shot wide from inside the penalty area was the closest they came to scoring in the first half.
Mottram was not given enough to do until, after a sluggish start to the second period, Quakers increased the pressure, threw men forward and penned back Prescot, who occasionally threatened but did not seriously test Mark Bell.
Gray added: "We came down with a gameplan to win, as we do everywhere we go because that's our mindset.
"We wanted a good performance and we wanted a clean sheet again.
"You could see the reaction of the fans, they were delighted. They'll be disappointed that we didn't get three points, but overall pleased with what we've done today.
"You've got to give the lads a lot of credit for playing on that pitch. They got the ball down and they passed it. We did things right apart from putting the ball in the back of the net.
Quakers’ Gary Brown, centre, vies for the ball with Prescot’s James McCulloch
"At least we created chances. I'd be concerned if we'd drawn 0-0 and we hadn't tested the keeper, but we did all the right things apart from score.
"Their keeper was man of the match. His kicking was good, his handling was good and we made him work."
The three games without a win coincides with a glut of injuries. Carrying a small squad has meant the absence through injury of Chris Hunter, Leon Scott and Jordan Robinson has been keenly felt.
Gary Brown being pushed into centre-midfield on Saturday was hardly ideal, but Gray had few other options. Dale Hopson looks short on confidence and Lewis Wing looked out of his depth when thrown into last Wednesday's match with Curzon.
Brown played a few passes that anyone would have been proud of, particularly an old school centre-back whose brief ordinarily involves little more than heading balls away and kicking strikers.
But having returned ahead of schedule from a long-term injury, Brown's now played five games in 15 days so may need a rest when second-bottom Wakefield arrive at Heritage Park on Wednesday, which is an opportunity for Quakers to record a welcome win.
The statistics say three games without a win is the team's worst streak since the beginning of last season, it's also true that Quakers have not lost in 12 successive away games.
Gray added: "We've won 14, drawn two and lost two in 18 games.
"That's a good record and we have to believe and have the mindset that we're going to go on another good run and get the momentum going.
"It's another vital point towards where we want to be. We need to keep our focus
"We need to stick together because we're right in the mix, we're where we want to be."
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