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Quakers party time with Town victory
Final Score: Darlington 3 Guisborough Town 0
THE champagne corks popped at the culmination of Darlington's fantastic season as they celebrated promotion with the perfect party.
It was slow to get going with Guisborough Town determined to spoil Quakers' night, but in the end the title winners won 3-0, maintained their unbeaten home record and local hero Steven Johnson got on the scoresheet.
Terry Galbraith and Amar Purewal also scored in a victory which was their 40th in their 46 games - a remarkable record.
It also meant that Martin Gray's men defeated every team in the division at least once and reached a staggering 122 points - there is no doubting that Darlington deserve the title because they have been sensational.
When captain Gary Brown lifted the silverware it was to huge roars from ecstatic fans - almost a year to the day since a new era in the club's history began.
It was on May 3, 2012 that the community company formed by the fans bought the club following tireless fundraising efforts.
Denis Pinnegar, chairman a year ago, began the new dawn by saying: "We have created a club that will be run for the benefit and entertainment of the community."
And supporters have been royally entertained. They end the season having scored 145 while the goal difference is 110.
But, perhaps understandably given the celebrations that carried over from the weekend, initially last night they were not at their best.
They got themselves into a tangle once or twice early on and, after getting beyond Brown, Guisborough striker Daniel Johnson should have done better than shoot straight at Craig Turns on five minutes.
Darlington were sloppy at times in possession. Not that it mattered hugely. The supporters savoured the occasion, going through the full range of champions-themed songs and also meeting an early flurry of passes with 'ole' as they celebrated their first promotion since May 11, 1991.
Jonny Davis was born seven months after that date, when Darlington won the Division Four title under Brian Little's leadership, and he teed up Quakers' first chance last night.
The midfielder pulled the ball back from the byline for Galbraith, but the former Dunston midfielder lashed the ball high over the bar.
Galbraith was one of six that remained in the team from Saturday's win over Team Northumbria, when the title was sealed with a nervy 3-1 win.
With the title in the bag, Gray gave some of his fringe players a run-out and made five changes, but one of his star men was on the end of Quakers' next chance, created by right-back Jordan Robinson.
Robinson, one of the changes, played a ball over the top for Stephen Thompson, who has so often a match-winner this season, and he thundered a volley against Guisborough's woodwork.
But the effort did not herald a change in the game as the visitors continued to exploit gaps in Darlington's defence.
Brown was outpaced by Michael Roberts, whose powerful shot struck keeper Craig Turns square in the face, and soon Johnson headed for goal , but fired narrowly wide.
Darlington, though, improved as the half progressed. Galbraith was inches away with two magnificent shots. The first saw him turn and fire a vicious volley that thundered off the crossbar, and then a long-range effort was just the wrong side of Bland's upright.
Dowson was denied by Bland just after the break and soon Gray took action, sending on Kerry Hedley and Purewal.
A foul on the latter gave Galbraith a free-kick 20 yards out, but Darlington's frustration continued.
From the dead-ball, Brown was inches away from meeting the ball and supporters were wondering if a goal would come at all.
They were desperate to see their side finish the season, and soon their class began to tell.
On 69 minutes Adam Gell tripped Craig Gott in the penalty area, allowing Galbraith to score his 13th goal of the season, firing the ball to the keeper's left.
It was the cue for fans' favourite Johnson to be sent on, the Darlington lad who would have loved nothing more than to notch on such an occasion.
Inevitably, he managed it too. Teed up by fellow Darlington lad Hedley, Johnson curled the ball inside the far post from inside the penalty area and immediately raced towards the fans.
They don't sing "he's one of our own" for nothing.
He could have had a second in injury time too, but Purewal snatched the ball off his toes to stab home.
It made for a nice bit of symmetry as his brother, Arjun, had scored Darlington's first goal in August. Back then there were hopes Quakers would be among the promotion contenders, but nobody expected them to steamroll the opposition.
"Darlo will never die," the fans chanted, which was also heard at Barrow in January 2012 when supporters feared it would be the club's final ever match.
Fifteen months on, with the Evo-Stik League First Division to come next season, they now realise it was just the beginning.
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