Radcliffe Borough 1 Darlington 2
After a three-week break without a game, goals from David Dowson and Terry Galbraith ensured Darlington returned to action in winning style.
They were in fine form before the break, leading 2-0 at half-time, and although they stuttered in the second period agains lowly opposition, Quakers never looked in danger of not recording what was their 11th win inside games 12.
Despite having not played for three weeks, Martin Gray’s side showed few signs of rustiness as they started on top and maintained their supremacy throughout the first 45 minutes.
A brilliant chance was wasted by Amar Purewal, who was one-on-one with keeper Chris Cheetham, he fired his effort straight into the keeper’s body, as he so often does when in those positions.
He’d been played in by Stephen Thompson, who hit the post 30 seconds later.
It was not long before Quakers scored, however, with David Dowson netting his 11th goal of the season.
He kept his composure inside the penalty area to tuck the ball beyond Cheetham on 19 minutes.
Cheetham was a busy man before the break and had to save again, this time from Dowson after a Thompson ball, but there was little he could do to stop Terry Galbraith’s penalty.
Midfielder Dave Sherlock tripped Rob Ramshaw and up stepped Galbraith who confidentially fired home for his fourth goal this season.
Ramshaw, on loan from Gateshead, enjoyed a fine game in midfield, making the most of his possession and looking assured and comfortable on the ball.
He was joined in midfield by Dale Hopson as the only change from the side which won 5-1 at Kendal three weeks ago, replacing Joe Tait who was on the bench.
It continued to be one-way traffic and Thompson blasted the ball high over the stand after Ramshaw played it back from the byline, and then Thompson drove a loose ball into the keeper’s body after Dowson and Purewal had played the ball between them on the edge of the penalty area.
Radcliffe had occasionally threatened from set-pieces as well as long-range efforts, though the relegation strugglers had cleared been second best.
Bradley Robinson fired over with an audacious effort just before half-time, tacking a touch to control a ball down the line and then volleying over on the turn.
Darlington allowed the hosts to pulled a goal back just before the hour mark, Bevan Burey ramming into an empty net after goalkeeper Mark Bell and Alan White collided when defending a free-kick.
They both attempted to deal with the ball lofted into the penalty area, and as a result Burey was able to fore home and give Radcliffe a lifeline.
The second half, though, turned into a scrappy affair with each side exchanging periods of possession but rarely forcing the respective goalkeepers into action.
Striker Nathan Fisher was sent on for Dowson and one of the substitute’s first pieces of action led to Radcliffe going down to ten men.
Centre-back Mark Ayres was red-carded for scything down Fisher on the halfway line, taking the substitution down from behind.
Although a harsh dismissal, it was a stupid decision to make a strong challenge in that position as the play was nowhere near goal and referee Dominic McDonald showed a straight red card.
Too many players in Darlington’s side were below par, including Thompson who looked sharp in the first half but made little impact in the second period.
With the game petering to a close, Jonny Davis replaced Dale Hopson and he had a low shot that Cheetham dealt with comfortably.
With leaders Warrington being walloped at home by fellow promotion-chasers Curzon Ashton, the victory means fourth-placed Darlington are seven points off the top.
Quakers are next in action on Wednesday at Heritage Park against Lancaster City, who are seventh.
Goals: Dowson (19, 0-1), Galbraith pen (28, 0-2); Burey (58, 1-2)
Bookings: Sherlock (28, foul); Dowson (61, simulation)
Sending-off: Ayres (69, foul)
Referee: Dominic McDonald
Radcliffe Borough: Cheetham, Lafferty, Lambert, White, Mullineux, Ayres, Sherlock (Landregan 57), Carden (Manning 76), Thompson, Robinson, Burey. Sub (not used): Rokka
Darlington: Bell; Harrison, Hunter, White, Galbraith; Robinson, Ramshaw, Hopson (Davis 83); Thompson; Dowson (Fisher 63), Purewal. Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), Brown, Tait