8:00am Monday 6th January 2014
By Craig Stoddart
"A special day for the club," is how Martin Gray described what was a high point in Darlington's season so far.
A 6-0 win over Clitheroe was a demonstration of how strong Quakers can be when they are in top gear.
They certainly appear to be at the moment as their seventh win in eight games was arguably their most impressive of the season.
Crushing a side ninth in the table was enough to take Darlington up a place to fourth. The play-offs are likely, but current form means automatic promotion remains possible.
Even the weather was kind, as the forecast rain stayed away to ensure the supporters' sterling work during the morning to get the game played did not go to waste and they were handsomely rewarded.
Gray dedicated the win to those that answered the club's SOS, saying: "It was a fantastic performance by the whole team, including the subs, everybody played their part. But that win was down to the fans because without them we wouldn't have had a game today.
"That performance is for the people who turned up this morning because at 8am the pitch was unplayable. They took two or three tons of slurry off the top of the pitch and without that there wouldn't have been a 6-0 win.
"I begged with the ref to give us a chance to work on the pitch until 12pm. I saw our fans, men and women, work hard for three or four hours, so that performance is for them."
A further fillip came in the form of Dan Burn's debut for Fulham. As part of the transfer deal that took the defender to Craven Cottage in 2011, Quakers will receive a financial sum, which they would prefer to remain confidential.
Not everything went Darlington's way though, because promotion pace-setters Curzon Ashton enjoyed their sixth successive win and remain nine points ahead with a match in hand.
The meeting between the sides at Heritage Park on February 8 will be crucial, but Curzon's winning ways could not take the shine off Darlington's day, which began with Stephen Thompson scoring on seven minutes.
Quakers set a high tempo during a positive start which led to Thompson firing home from 18 yards after exchanging passes with David Dowson during a counter-attack.
They went route one to make it 2-0 soon afterwards. Goalkeeper Mark Bell belted the ball up the middle, Amar Purewal flicked it on and Dowson applied the finish before Purewal added the third with a close-range header - his 40th goal for the club - after meeting Terry Galbraith's free-kick.
There was little resistance from Clitheroe, who cannot have enjoyed being second best and player-manager Simon Garner may not have been entirely disappointed to withdraw himself due to injury before the break.
Bell twice fumbled long-range efforts by Clitheroe - Sean Miller from a free kick and a shot from striker Lloyd Dean - but three more goals in the second half completed Quakers' rout with another 45 minutes in which Darlington dictated play.
After man of the match Purewal chased a seemingly lost cause before pulling the ball back from the byline, Thompson scored from inside the penalty area for only the fourth time this season. His other 15 have all been from at least 18 yards.
Purewal added his second after plucking Chris Hunter's ball out of the sky and finishing coolly.
He is still waiting for his first Quakers hat-trick, however, as for the sixth time this season Purewal finished the game with two goals.
Gray was pleased with the striker, saying: "Amar's aerial threat was very good and some of his play was outstanding.
"For the second goal, Clitheroe gave up, Amar didn't - that's the same mentality as Dowson, chasing things down and making something happen out of nothing - and he unselfishly put Thompson in for his second goal."
The day would have been capped off nicely with a goal from Steven Johnson, who returned to action a fortnight after saying he was leaving.
With injuries affecting Gray's small squad, he answered a plea to make up the numbers and came off the bench, but could not get a goal and instead fellow substitute Nathan Fisher finished the scoring.
He smashed home after Galbraith crossed after beating two men up the left, meaning Darlington have now scored 29 goals in eight games.
"We've picked 22 points up out of the last 24, so I'm really pleased," added Gray.
"We've got a couple of matches to catch up, but let's enjoy today because it's been a great day for the club. Dan Burn making his debut for Fulham had a positive vibe because there's an injection of cash coming. We've got people working really hard behind the scenes and the fans have played their part today and so did the players so it's been a special day."
* Darlington manager Martin Gray and assistant Brian Atkinson will attend a fans' forum tonight at Blackwell Meadows, 7pm start.
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