9:00am Monday 14th April 2014
By Craig Stoddart
After an 11-game drought, during which time a new striker was brought to the club, Darlington's Amar Purewal made a timely return to form by bagging a brace on Saturday.
For the first time since February 1, in a 5-1 win at Kendal Town, Purewal found the net, scoring twice in a comfortable 3-0 win over Padiham which confirmed the team's place in the play-offs.
They can begin planning for a play-off semi-final because both Farsley and Ramsbottom cannot both finish above Quakers, and sealing second position is now the goal.
With just over a fortnight to go until that semi-final, Purewal will sleep a little easier knowing he is back among the goals, having ended what was his leanest spell since joining the club at the beginning of last season.
He had been on the bench for two matches, replaced by new signing Ian Ward, but the pair were in partnership on Saturday as manager Martin Gray opted for an unorthodox strike pairing of two target men.
"He'd needed a rest. He's played pretty much every game since he's been at the club and that takes its toll," said Gray.
"He's taken a lot for us, so it was nice to recharge his batteries and then bring him back and he's come back by scoring a couple of goals.
"Those goals today are great for his confidence."
Purewal is now on 18 league goals for the campaign, six behind leading scorer Stephen Thompson, who put Quakers ahead in the 27th minute, by which stage the team should have been well clear in one of the most one-sided games of the season.
It was an ordinary match, not dissimilar to last week's 3-0 win over Radcliffe,
This one, though, was played almost entirely in Padiham's half, with the fourth-bottom visitors' 41-year-old former Preston striker Lee Ashcroft rarely reaching Quakers' penalty area.
But Padiham keeper Sean Davis had less work to do than Sainsbury's petrol station staff, who spent most of the first half returning stray balls to Heritage Park following some wayward shooting, with Ward, Thompson, Gary Brown and Jonny Davis all offenders.
Gray said: "We looked in charge from the beginning to the end. I think it's the first time this season when we've played against a team who didn't have a shot.
"They didn't have a corner or a shot, but they can be quite difficult games if you don't approach them in the right manner. It was a solid performance. You can only beat what's in front of you and we did more than enough today.
"We took the game to them from the first minute and Jonny Davis probably should've scored. We had a few chances, but once we got the first goal it settled us down a bit."
Darlington captain Gary Brown tries an optimistic shot on goal
After receiving the ball from Ward, Thompson dribbled into the penalty area and fired weakly - which is most unlike this season's Evo-Stik Player of the Year - beyond Davis to give Quakers a well-deserved lead.
But Darlington had to wait until eight minutes into the second half for the inevitable second, and it heralded a loud cheer in celebration of Purewal's goal drought being over.
Casting aside the lack of belief often associated with out-of-form forwards, he showed no hesitation in powering home a header after a Terry Galbraith corner.
Points as good as won, that was the cue for Gray to send on David Dowson and Nathan Fisher in order to rest Ward and Thompson.
Gray said: "It was nice to see Thommo get a goal and we were able to bring him off on the hour to give him a rest. He's such an important player for us and a very good player for a fat winger!"
Ward had won plenty in the air, as did Purewal, and on playing two tall strikers Gray added: "The instruction is to play balls into them with quality, balls from the full-backs and diagonal balls.
"We weren't direct, but you've got to look at the pitch and see what your strengths in your team are. If you've got a 6ft 4in centre forward then you've got to use him."
Gray recalled Jonny Davis ahead of Adam Mitchell, who returned from a trial with Brentford, to form a solid midfield alongside Gary Brown and Leon Scott.
The manager added: "The midfield three were strong and powerful. It wasn't a game when you could get the ball down and pass it because the pitch isn't great and the conditions were blustery.
"We dominated midfield, we were strong and powerful - when we didn't have the ball we were in the opposition's face.
"On the ball we made good decisions, we didn't over-play and that was the game-plan, not to play too much through midfield."
Quakers' third came in injury time and owed almost as much to Chris Hunter as it did Purewal.
Jonny Davis, left, and Leon Scott, right, congratulate Stephen Thompson on giving Quakers the lead
Hunter, so often Darlington's unsung hero, carried the ball from halfway before laying it off to Purewal, who went past a couple of defenders before shooting home confidently.
It was the seventh time he has scored twice in a game this season, though he has yet to bag a hat-trick. Perhaps Purewal is saving that for the play-offs.
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