Final score: Darlington 5 Wakefield 1
Stephen Thompson starred as Darlington enjoyed a comfortable 5-1 win over Wakefield to move up to second in the table.
He weighed in with a hat-trick, all three of his strikes coming from outside the penalty area during as one-sided a game as Quakers have played this season.
They wasted far too many chances, however, their profligacy matter little with Nathan Fisher and Adam Mitchell also on target on a chilly evening at Heritage Park which saw only 697 in attendance – Darlington’s lowest league gate at the venue.
Those that stayed away missed Thompson’s third hat-trick for the club, leaving manager Martin Gray delighted with his star man, who has now netted 26 goals in all competitions this season.
“He showed what a special player he is. That’s 23 league goals now, which isn’t bad for a left-winger who is fat and overweight,” said the manager, with reference to disparaging comments made by Curzon Ashton manager John Flanagan recently.
“It was a great and well-deserved hat-trick. He was so clinical with his finishing.
“We changed formation because we knew Wakefield would play 4-5-1 and that allowed us to put Thompson behind the strikers and he’s so dangerous there.”
Having not won any of their three games since changing to 4-4-2 three games ago, Darlington started with 3-4-1-2 and the switch almost paid dividends inside two minutes.
Thompson put a goal on a plate for Amar Purewal with a floated cross from the right, but he showed all the conviction of a striker now without a goal in nine games and goalkeeper Neil Bennett had an easy save.
The attack was an indication of what was to come against a side with the division’s worst defensive record – 105 goals conceded in 36 games before last night – as Darlington were dominant from the off, but they failed to make the most of their possession.
Dale Hopson, recalled on the right of midfield, played a perfectly-weighted pass into Thompson, though the ball skimmed off the top of the grass, which had received a thorough soaking during a pre-match downpour.
Darlington’s superiority was occasionally interrupted by a Wakefield punt down field to lone striker Robert Bordman, but the visitors from Yorkshire posed little threat and Darlington deserved to go ahead on 31 minutes when Thompson drilled a low shot home from 20 yards.
Mitchell, making his home debut, saw an effort from the corner of the penalty area drift just past the post, though the half ended with Wakefield wasting a chance when Robert Bordman fired wide from 18 yards.
They were otherwise a poor side and any chance they had of scraping a point appeared to vanish when Bordman was sent off.
He saw red on 53 minutes for talking out of turn to the referee Rebecca Welch following an incident behind her back involving Quakers skipper Gary Brown.
It seemed only a matter of time before Darlington doubled their lead, but it was Wakefield who scored next, handed an equaliser thanks to sloppy defending at a short corner, allowing David Bordman to level with a close-range tap-in.
Gray said: “I was concerned we’d missed so many chances because you’ve got to kill teams off, the sooner the better.
“We went 1-0 up, it should’ve been four or five, and then we concede a rubbish goal. But then Thompson comes up with another bit of quality.
“We were well in control, it was just a matter of taking our chances.”
Within four minutes, Darlington led 3-1 following a quickfire double.
Thompson, who had hit both the bar and post, swept home from the edge of the penalty area, lifting the ball over the keeper, and then Fisher raced on to a long pass down the right and dispatched the ball across Bennett for his sixth league goal to give Quakers some breathing space.
Welch waved away strong penalty appeals when Jason Mycoe tripped Ian Ward, the tall debutant striker signed from Durham City who made his presence felt after coming off the bench.
Thompson completed his hat-trick when he fired left-footed into the net from, as ever, outside the penalty area, but the final say went to Mitchell.
Ward headed the ball back into play after a Thompson corner with Mitchell eventually being teed up to hook home from just inside the penalty area.
The win means Quakers, who are at Ossett Town on Saturday, are now nine points ahead of sixth place.