8:00am Monday 16th December 2013
By Craig Stoddart
Full-time: Darlington 1 Bamber Bridge 0
Now just five points off the top and with a run of games to come against some of the division's less-fancied sides, Darlington will begin the second half of the league programme in fine fettle.
They have reached the halfway point of the season by seeing off two of the top teams in consecutive weekends, both of whom were defending long unbeaten records before coming up against a Quakers side who have really hit their stride.
A week earlier Darlington completed a league double against leaders Warrington Town, previously undefeated in 17 games, and on Saturday they did likewise to a Bamber Bridge team who were second in the table before kick-off.
David Dowson's second-half goal was enough to end Bridge's 15-match unbeaten streak, firmly putting Darlington's sticky patch behind them.
They have put together a run of five successive league wins, which encourages optimism ahead of their next nine fixtures, none of which are against clubs in the current top seven.
Having selected the same starting XI for three matches in a row, manager Martin Gray appears to have discovered a winning formula.
He's adopted a 4-3-1-2 formation and positioned Stephen Thompson behind two strikers.
He said: "Every team has a blip. We had ours in early November, we've changed things around and the lads have responded ever so well.
"We've played against some tough teams and picked up points. On paper, we've put ourselves back in where we need to be.
"Hopefully we'll have a good Christmas period, but there's no easy games - we only drew 0-0 with Harrogate a while ago - so we can't afford to be complacent because we've won a few games. We need to keep driving forward."
Combined with the long-awaited encouraging news about returning to Darlington, it's tempting to suggest Quakers' Christmas has come early.
That would suggest that in some way Darlington were fortunate to win their last two matches, but that has not been the case at all.
While they were on top throughout at Warrington, high winds on Saturday meant a different level of performance was required.
With memories still fresh of the 2-2 draw against Bishop Auckland last season, when strong winds made a mockery of attempts to play football, Gray admitted an intricate style of play was not possible.
"It wasn't particularly a good game to watch, the conditions spoilt it for the spectators," said Gray. "There was only one clear chance and we took it.
"The wind was such a leveller. It wouldn't have mattered who we were playing against today, the wind made it so difficult for both teams.
"At Warrington we passed and moved, but the ball could have gone anywhere today.
"It wasn't quite as bad as the Bishop Auckland game, but it was still very difficult to get the ball down and pass it."
With the wind playing havoc, neither team could build a head of steam. Half chances and long shots were frequent, with the occasional free-kick offering hope of excitement during a drab match.
Bamber Bridge goalkeeper Steven James saved a shot direct from an otherwise subdued Stephen Thompson free-kick early on, while centre-back Alan White raised eyebrows with an acrobatic overhead kick, which sailed over the bar.
Hard-working as ever, on several occasions Dowson nicked the ball off a dallying defender's feet, with one occasion leading to him being challenged in the box.
Leon Scott tries a shot during the first half of Quakers' 1-0 win
But he kept his footing to fire in a shot that James dealt with.
The tenacious forward was rewarded on the hour, though, when he kept his composure to slot home when played in by Jonny Davis.
Having also scored two well-taken goals at Warrington last week, he's clearly in form.
Gray added: "Trying to get a foot on the ball to get a pass in behind their centre-backs wasn't easy because of the conditions, but Jonny Davis picked out a pass for Dowson.
"He had a lot to do. He was outside the penalty area when he took the shot and it was a really good first-time finish."
Bamber Bridge, with the wind at their backs, built pressure in the final stages and Darlington struggled to keep the ball out of their half.
A couple of corners caused concern during six agonising minutes of injury time, but the excellent Chris Hunter and goalkeeper Mark Bell comfortably dealt with them.
"It was about character today, being disciplined and organised," said Gray. "We had to be hard to break down. It was a bit worrying at times because in the last ten minutes Bamber Bridge had a lot of corners and free-kicks come into the box.
"Defenders had to do their job, they had to get their head on the ball and we did that really well.
"We've given ourselves a chance, but it was important to win on the back of last week's good performance. It keeps that momentum going."
Darlington are next at Burscough on Saturday, while on Wednesday they have a friendly against a Sunderland XI at Heritage Park (7.30), which is billed as a farewell match for Steven Johnson, who is leaving the club due to work commitments.
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