Home sweet home for Darlington in play-offs

9:00am Monday 21st April 2014

By Craig Stoddart

Darlington will have home advantage in the play-off semi-final a week on Wednesday, plus the final if they get there, as second place is now secure with two league games to complete.

The semi will see them face whoever finishes fifth, which will be Bamber Bridge, Ramsbottom, Farsley or Lancaster, and Quakers will hope Saturday will prove to be a dress rehearsal.

Farsley arrived at Heritage Park in fifth position and in good form, having in the last week beaten champions Curzon Ashton and play-off rivals Lancaster.

Further bolstering their optimism was the knowledge they had defeated Darlington 4-2 at the start of the campaign.

They were a fair side too, edging a first 45 minutes of few chances. However, they were sent back to west Yorkshire on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline which maintains Quakers' growing momentum towards the season's end.

That's five wins in a row now in which 16 goals have been scored, 95 for the season, and they will surely move closer to the 100 mark today when they visit second-bottom Wakefield (3pm), who have conceded 114.

Darlington manager Martin Gray named an unchanged XI, his play-off team surely now becoming clearer, though Jordan Robinson is ready to return to midfield.

"We had that 4-2 defeat in mind, but we had a different starting XI to what we had back then and we know we're stronger than we were," said the manager, who served the third game of a four-match touchline ban.

"I'm delighted with a 3-0 win and another clean sheet, which is what I pride my teams on. We build our team from the back and the back-five were great."

They needed to be strong too as Farsley were a test. Strikers Adam Priestley and Aiden Savory are tricky players, though defender Chris Hunter was again exemplary.

In the four games since he returned after injury, Quakers have conceded only once and that was when Ossett Town's Nick Wood used a hand to control the ball before scoring.

Stephen Thompson will surely again be player of the season, although Hunter deserves some recognition for his consistent performances no matter which defensive partner he has been paired with.

He and Joe Tait were solid on Saturday, but Thompson and team-mates struggled to gain traction in the final third and had only one clear scoring opportunity before the break, Ian Ward taking it with aplomb.

The tall striker volleyed home on 35 minutes after good hold-up play by Amar Purewal, who held off two defenders and passed to Jonny Davis, whose first-time cross to the near post was guided home by Ward.

"That's three goals in four starts for Ian," said Gray, "so he's been a real plus to have around the team.

"The goal was a great bit of play by Jonny Davis and the finish was clinical. That was probably the only chance we had in the first half, so to come in at half-time 1-0 up was pleasing.

"The first half was equal or they may have slightly edged it, they were on top without hurting us. They had a chance after 15 minutes that Mark Bell saved and their play was good.

"We readjusted at half-time, we went 4-4-2, and that put pressure on their defenders and stopped the supply to their front men. I was delighted with the front four with what they gave us from a team point of view."

A goal to the good and formation changed from 4-3-1-2, Gray's tactical reshuffle meant Farsley were not so dangerous after the restart and Darlington were more composed, more assured, especially once Amar Purewal finished coolly on the hour.

His 19th league strike of the season came after substitute David Dowson had played the ball in despite being fouled, so credit to referee Shaun Hudson for playing advantage.

After recently going 11 games without a goal, Purewal has now found his shooting boots.

"He was disappointed at half-time for missing a chance," revealed Gray. "He felt he could've put us 2-0 up at half-time, it was a great chance, probably easier than the one he did score.

"But that's two goals in three games for him and he's hitting a bit of form now at the right time."

It was quickly 3-0, midfielder Leon Scott scoring his second of the season with a goal that began with his crunching tackle, followed by a 25-yard drive and ended with keeper Tom Morgan making a hash of catching the ball.

Gray added: "The keeper will be disappointed for dropping it. Leon hit the ball well, but it wasn't the best bit of goalkeeping."

After Wakefield today, Quakers complete their league programme against Burscough at Heritage Park on Saturday before one, hopefully two, games in the play-offs, both at home.

Gray added: "It's been a good day against a very strong Farsley team and we had to put in a big performance to get a result.

"It was important to get a win because, psychologically, it's an advantage to have beaten them recently if we have to play them again here."


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