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Darlington given a scare by Billingham Town
Darlington 3 Billingham Town 2
Darlington stay top of the Northern League after making it five wins out of five at Heritage Park, but they made hard work of seeing off struggling Billingham Town.
They had to come from behind after former Darlington target Jamie Owens put the visitors ahead who came into the game second-bottom, and in injury time a defensive mistake allowed Billingham to pull a goal back. It might even have been 3-3 were it not for last-ditch Gary Brown tackle in the dying seconds.
The visitors took a 1-0 lead through Owens when he held off Joe Tait on the corner of the penalty area to lob Jack Norton, despite the keeper being stood almost on his goal-line.
That goal midway through the first half may have been tough on Quakers who had seen plenty of goalmouth action at the other end, but they were not convincing with keeper Danny Molyneux seriously tested only once before Owens’ goal.
That was when Chris Emms blasted at goal from outside the penalty area, with Molyneux diving low to his right to keep out the effort.
By that stage Stephen Thompson should at least forced Molyneux into action as the Darlington striker was off-target when one-on-one.
Thompson was making his full debut after joined last week from Durham City so he teamed-up again with David Dowson, but Dowson suffered a groin injury after only 12 minutes and was replaced by Shaun Reay.
It was the substitute who levelled matters before the break with a smart turn and shot to goal. It came with an Emms assist after he’d received a pass out wide from Gary Brown.
But before half-time Billingham hit the post after a Norton fumble. He was unable to cleanly catch Micky Dunwell’s free-kick, the ball bouncing through his hands and rebounding off the post before being cleared by the Darlington defence, much to the keeper’s relief.
He at least attempted to catch the ball this time, unlike his in the first half against Newton Aycliffe last Wednesday when he thought a shot from distance was going over the bar, but the ball rebounded off the woodwork.
Brown started in midfield in place of the unavailable Leon Scott, but at the break Brown reverted to centre-back as Arjun Purewal limped off with an ankle injury, replaced by Adam Clough.
There was no significant improvement after the break, and Darlington were under some pressure for a period. Left-back Dan Smith had to clear a Micky Dunwell header off the line following a corner taken by Craig Norman, and 30 seconds later another Norman corner led to Owens heading wide at the back post.
Then Billingham Town left-winger Matthew Garbutt cut inside and fired wide, but Darlington created chances of their own and eventually Amar Purewal put Quakers 2-1 ahead.
Thompson may have missed his chance to score, but he provided the first of two assists by crossing from the right for Purewal to tap home his fifth goal of the season.
But the goal owed much to Billingham Town substitute James Cronesberry who had inexplicably dribbled towards his goal inside his team’s half before being dispossessed.
The killer goal came from Reay, the striker taking his tally to the season to eight and again Thompson was the provider.
The new recruit played a perfectly-weighted through-ball to Reay who lobbed the onrushing Molyneux, and the striker should have had a hat-trick.
In a frantic finish, Purewal boke into the penalty area and teed up his team-mate, but the ball rolled under Reay’s foot and shortly after Cronesberry made it 3-2 after a mistake by Quakers.
Indecision on the edge of the penalty area between Norton and Tait gave possession to Billingham Town and, with Norton inexplicably taking time to return to his goal-line, flame-haired Cronesberry blasted high into the net.
That made for some anxious moments for Darlington and a strong Brown tackle on Cronsesberry in the penalty area was required to snuff out the danger, befoe Reay missed another chance.
Emms was the provider as Quakers countered in an end-to-end finale, and although Reay rounded the keeper and looked to make it 4-2, Molyneux recovered to claw the ball away.
The final whistle was a relief to Quakers supporters, a minority of whom exchanged words with Norton as he left the field.
Darlington are next in action on Tuesday at Hebburn in the Durham Challenge Cup while Billingham Town are at Marske United on Wednesday evening.
Referee: M Dicicco
Darlington (4-4-2): Norton; Harrison, Tait, Arjun Purewal (Clough 46), Smith; Emms, Brown, Amar Purewal; Dowson (Reay 12), Thompson (Johnson 87). Subs (not used): Porter (gk), Nicholls
Billingham Town (4-4-2): Molyneux; O’Brien, Middleton, Gaston, Gamble; Norman (Cronesberry 72), Perry, Butterworth, Garbutt (Martin 75); Dunwell (McDonald 90), Owens. Subs (not used): Thomas, Wetherill