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White at stoic best as Quakers climb the table
Ryan Giggs was in the limelight at the weekend as his remarkable achievement of playing until his 40th birthday was celebrated, and it was Darlington's old stager, Alan White, that took the plaudits in Quakers' latest victory.
Whereas Giggs' influence has steadily diminished over the years, White remains important as ever to Quakers' cause and he was at his stoic best on Saturday as Darlington ground out a 2-1 win at Mossley.
He led the way as a stubbornness not to concede came to the fore in the face of mounting pressure during the closing stages to ensure Quakers sealed a third successive league win and moved up a place into the play-offs.
They are fifth thanks to a win that would have come easier had they taken the chances that followed early goals by Stephen Thompson and Amar Purewal.
It was 2-0 by the 13th minute, but opportunities to add a game-clinching third came and went, ensuring mid-table Mossley retained hope of a comeback and a 75th minute goal by the hosts made for a nervy finish.
Darlington dug deep, however, delighting manager Martin Gray with a rearguard action that proved Quakers can battle when required.
"It was about character," said the manager, who had selected a more defensive-minded midfield, with Leon Scott replacing Curtis Edwards.
"We stuck together, we were hard to break down and most of their shots were from long range, so the lads put a really big shift in the second half and credit to them.
"Mossley have had some very good home results lately, they beat Ramsbottom, so there was always going to be a spell in the game when we had to dig in and defend.
"It's getting to that stage of the season when pitches are cutting up and we've come to a tough place. We'd have settled for a 2-1 win."
Mossley's goal came via left-back Louis Horne, who escaped his marker to head home from close-range following a free-kick.
Suddenly Mossley had momentum and Darlington, with Thompson having been withdrawn as precaution, had a game on their hands.
White, however, seemingly relished the opportunity to shine, repeatedly heading balls away, as he had done all game.
Gray added: "The goal we conceded put us under pressure for the last ten or 15 minutes, but our character was really strong. Alan White's defensive headers were really powerful and he was outstanding.
"His talent as an experienced centre-half really came through.
"He was one a few players to do well, but in these type of conditions, against a team putting a lot of balls into the box for us to defend, he made a lot of good decisions and players alongside him can learn from him."
Performances such as White's can be overlooked when Thompson is in the team and in the sort of form he has displayed of late.
Saturday's strike was his fourth in the last four games and his tenth league goal of the season. All of them have been from outside of the penalty area with Saturday's effort fired low beyond goalkeeper Russ Saunders from 20-yard.
"It was another good 45 minutes from Thompson," said Gray. "He got on the ball 20 to 25 yards from goal and he only had one thing in his mind. It might've taken a bobble in front of the keeper - the pitch was lively - but if you don't shoot, you don't score and as long as he hits the target he's got a chance."
And five minutes later Purewal ensured he stayed just one league goal behind Thompson when his deft lob beat the onrushing keeper.
David Dowson, Jonny Davis and Thompson had chances to increase the lead, while a last-ditch challenge by Mossley right-back Ryan Marley prevented Purewal from shooting in a good position during a one-sided first 45 minutes in which Darlington attacked down the slope.
Going uphill, Purewal was played in by Thompson but missed a chance to repeat his first half lob at the beginning of a largely scrappy second period, one in which Mossley had the better chances.
Most were long-range punts, though Mark Bell made a smart reaction save to deny John Bennett while the keeper also caught Wayne Welbeck's effort when the striker - Danny's brother - he got his head to a cross.
After recovering from a calf injury, Bell replaced Peter Jameson, who returned to the bench having performed admirably during eight games as a stand-in.
"It was a big decision because Peter Jameson has done really well and we've won a few games lately," explained Gray. "But I felt we needed a bit more experience and Mark came back and had a very good game.
"He made one or two big saves in the second half, really big saves."
Not only did Darlington have to deal with Mossley's growing belief, the half was permeated by lenient refereeing.
The hosts took advantage by committing some heavy challenges that varied in their degree of physicality.
The most brutal was by Horne, late and from behind on Dowson, who required treatment, yet Mr Bradshaw played on and to their credit Quakers kept their cool.
They maintained their shape as well as focus on winning what turned into a tricky contest and doing likewise at leaders Warrington on Saturday is the next aim.
With that game in mind, Quakers will make changes for Wednesday's League Cup tie at Heritage Park against Ossett Town.