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DARLINGTON 5 NEWCASTLE BENFIELD 2
DARLINGTON’S desire to win promotion from the Ebac Northern League at the first attempt is no secret, and it has been made abundantly clear over the past week.
They recorded a fifth successive win when they beat Durham City 3-1 last Wednesday, but manager Martin Gray was far from satisfied.
You should never change a winning team, the saying goes, but after beating Durham, Gray brought in Craig Gott from Billingham Synthonia and restored Stephen Thompson to the team.
The outcome? A 5-2 win over Newcastle Benfield on Saturday, which was Darlington’s best performance of the season.
Until a blip midway through the second half, when individual errors led to Benfield’s two goals, Darlington had been looking good to enjoy a record win, such was their superiority over the midtable opposition.
“We dominated from start to finish. It was a football lesson,”
“We got the ball down, we moved it and we passed it very quickly.
“I hope people don’t think too much about the two mistakes because that’s the best we’ve played all season. You take the silly mistakes out of the game and they didn’t have a chance.
“I was pleased with the way the front players looked after the ball and the wide players.
It was an outstanding performance.”
Gray’s gripe after the Durham game had been the concession of possession. Too often, he believed, his team had given the ball away with loose passes.
Durham equalised when Marc Ellison’s pass had been intercepted and it was he who made way for Gott, who impressed Gray on his debut.
The midfielder was economical with the ball, always finding a team-mate.
“Craig kept the ball in midfield, which is something we’ve talked about because we’ve needed more possession,”
“It was a great debut from Craig. We kept the ball better today than we have all season.”
Truth be told, Gray’s team didn’t start so well against Benfield, who shaded the opening exchanges.
Jack Norton’s first error of the day – straying from his line when Gary Brown headed clear – led to Brown having to clear off the line as Perry Briggs’ side pressed, despite being up against a strong wind before the break.
But a piece of individual class by Thompson suddenly made it 1-0.
He carved open the visitors’ defence on 23 minutes, taking the ball beyond three players and laying on a close-range goal for Amar Purewal, and thereafter Darlington were dominant.
By half-time it was 3-0. The second was a cheeky Leon Scott chip after he capitalised on a weak clearance by keeper Andrew Grainger, the third a Joe Tait header after meeting Dan Smith’s free-kick.
Benfield boss Briggs said: “We more than held our own for the first 25 minutes or so and had a few half chances.
But as soon as the first goal went in everything changed and it was a poor, poor goal to give away which has been the story of our season.
“Thompson ran in from about 30 yards, but I’ve said to them before that if that happens you’ve got to kill the game, in other words take a yellow card.
“That’s what you’ve got to do, but we just stood off him.
“As soon as the first and second goals went in, our heads went down. Everybody was deflated and you cannot do that when you come to a place like this. You’ve got to stand up and be counted, but we didn’t do that.”
As well as setting up the first goal, Thompson also teed up the fourth.
After playing a one-two with Shaun Reay, a measured pass saw Purewal add his eighth of the season from inside the penalty area as Quakers were finally rewarded for their attacking intent.
Purewal’s 70th minute strike should have signalled a glut of goals. And it did, but two went to Benfield.
Brown’s back-pass went under Norton’s foot for an own goal that will be credited to the captain, but no matter how much the ball bobbled, it was the goalkeeper’s gaffe.
Smith erred too. His sloppy pass handed substitute Sam Norris a one-on-one and he tucked home for 4-2.
“I was thinking that if we could get another goal it would be panic stations for them,” said Briggs.
“But then we tried to play the offside trap, it’s not worked and at 5-2 it’s end of story. It’s back to the drawing board.”
It was Steven Johnson who beat Benfield’s badly-executed offside trap by collecting an Adam Nicholls pass and calmly rounding Grainger to slot home.
Gray added: “Sloppiness crept in. You can’t afford that to happen and the players know that. We handed them their two goals, they didn’t create them, we gave them two goals.
“But overall, defensively we were good for most of the match and in attack we were excellent and it could have ended up five, six or 7-0 quite easily.”