Ossett Town 1 Darlington 2
Darlington strengthened their position in the play-off places with a 2-1 win at Ossett Town on a day when most of their rivals slipped up.
First-half goals from Ian Ward and Terry Galbraith gave Quakers a victory - their third of the season over Ossett Town - which means they are now a healthy nine points ahead of sixth position, and three ahead of third-placed Warrington, who were held to a draw.
Farsley and Lancaster both lost while Ramsbottom drew.
Leaders Curzon won again, meaning they need only another five more points to guarantee the title, but with only five games remaining, four of them being at Heritage Park, it’s second position which is well within Quakers’ grasp.
They started positively and twice came close to scoring. A Joe Tait free-kick has to be tipped over by keeper Sam Dobbs, and after the corner had been cleared Terry Galbraith’s flighted ball back into the area bounced off the top of the bar.
Ward was one of five changes manager Martin Gray made to the starting XI and he marked his first start with a goal on 28 minutes.
The striker, signed last week from Durham City, lashed home at close-range following a 28th minute corner taken by Galbraith.
Ossett were unable to clear, the ball bouncing around the penalty area until Ward got the final touch for his 20th goal of the season, the previous 19 all being for Durham.
Ward is in the team for his strength and ability to bring others into play, and soon after scoring he set Nathan Fisher up for a shooting opportunity which he blasted wide.
Fisher was also one of the five changes, the others being new signing Jack Walker at right wing-back, Chris Hunter and Leon Scott.
Dale Hopson was left out of the starting XI and Gray explained the decision was based on Ossett’s pitch not being ideal for the youngster’s passing game.
Galbraith, who has now started 21 consecutive games, grabbed the second goal with a wonderful free-kick on 33 minutes.
After Gary Brown had been fouled by Louis Horne 30 yards from goal, the left-back lofted a curling effort which Dobbs had no chance of stopping.
It was a terrific free-kick for the left-back’s sixth goal of the season and gave Darlington a deserved two-goal lead in what was a fine first half performance.
The team continued from Wednesday’s win over Wakefield, when they should have scored more and it was a similar theme before the break today.
Adam Mitchell, who was excellent again, had a shot deflected over by Nick Wood after a cross by Stephen Thompson on the left, a Thompson volley floated after Ward had held the ball up following a long throw by Brown and Dobbs gathered the ball at the second attempt after spilling a Thompson shot, grabbing it just ahead of Fisher.
It was a scrappy start to a second half in which Quakers did not match the heights of the first period.
It took a while before either team created a clear chance with strong defending by Darlington, Tait and Hunter both being a force.
Quakers again played 3-4-1-2 with the back three being Galbraith, Tait and Hunter. Brown was in the centre of midfield with Scott.
Ossett gradually came into the game with midfielder David Kuba-Kuba often in the thick of the action.
A long-range punt by him flew over Mark Bell’s bar, while Rob Branagan headed wide at the far post after meeting a diagonal ball from the left-wing.
Ossett fired a warning shot when they had a goal disallowed for offside, Jimmy Eyles heading home after meeting a left-wing cross, but on 76 minutes the hosts pulled back the goal they had been threatening.
However, it should have been ruled out as Wood used a hand when controlling the ball in the penalty area.
The goal came from a corner, won by Kuba-Kuba after a flurry of step-overs when taking on Hunter, and from the set-piece Ossett scored, though Wood clearly used his left hand to bring the ball under control when it was played into the penalty area by Eyles.
The officials must have been unsighted as the incident did not represent a borderline decision, there was no doubt Wood handled, but referee Ken Haycock allowed the goal to stand.
Having pulled a goal back, Ossett’s tails were up while Darlington looked nervy. With three points vital in the play-off race, Quakers appeared to feel the pressure as the hosts tried to find an equaliser.
They did not test Bell in Darlington’s goal, but they did have strong appeals for a penalty when Eyles went down under Galbraith.
Referee Haycock later said there had been contact, but enough to warrant a spot-kick, and so Quakers closed out the game – eventually, after a staggering seven minutes of injury-time.
They are next in seven days’ time against Radcliffe Borough at Heritage Park.
Goals: Ward (28, 0-1), Galbraith (33, 0-2; Wood (76, 1-2)
Bookings: Patterson (5, foul)
Referee: Ken Haycock
Ossett Town (4-4-2): Dobbs; Kilburn (Akeister 83), Horne (Pashley 71), Wood, Jeff; Branagan, Kuba-Kuba, Patterson, Williams; Wood (Connor 46), Eyles. Subs (not used): Bartle, Sykes
Darlington: Bell, Walker, Galbraith, Tait, Hunter, Brown, A Mitchell (Davis 81), Scott, Ward, Fisher (Dowson 69), Thompson (Purewal 85). Subs (not used): Jameson (gk), White