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Quakers hit best form to go nine points clear
Ask Martin Gray how far ahead Darlington are in the table and he'll claim not to have paid much attention.
Should he care to take a look at the Northern League standings, however, he would surely be delighted to see that the team he created a matter of months ago have already opened a nine-point gap.
His team are marching through the division, having now won ten successive games (14 wins from 15 games in total), their latest being Saturday's 6-1 win over Ashington, when they took their goal tally to 53. In October. After only 15 games.
With second-placed Spennymoor Town in FA Vase action - winning handsomely at Bridlington - Quakers took advantage.
They did so with their ninth home win from as many games against a side fancied to do well.
Ashington, who finished fifth last season, were eighth before the game and recently lost only narrowly to Spennymoor, when they became the first team to score past the Moors. But they were no match for Gray's side.
"We knew it was going to be tough," admitted Ashington boss, Gary Middleton. "After ten minutes or so we were being outplayed in every department. It was a very impressive performance from Darlo.
"I was disappointed with our performance. That's not to take anything away from Darlington.
"They're a top side and Martin has them drilled well, but as a manager looking at his team I was not happy with my players.
"We got off to a great start, but the momentum went straight back to Darlington when they scored."
The tone was set from kick-off with Darlington immediately bulldozing their way through the visitors' defence.
David Dowson was off target after only 21 seconds and there were numerous other chances, but Middleton's men took a shock lead, Andrew Johnson heading home at the far post when meeting an Andrew Dugdale cross.
It mattered little because within five minutes Darlington were in front.
Leon Scott grabbed his customary goal - he has now scored six in his last six games - when he took advantage of Ashington keeper Karl Dryden parrying a Dowson cross, then Stephen Thompson drilled home from 18 yards.
"I was very confident that we'd score after the way we'd started," said Gray.
"It was all about the start of the game, keeping the ball better and winning it back higher up the pitch. We were also clinical with our chances."
Gray's men were thankful, however, for Jack Norton making a fine save at 2-1 to stop Johnson's shot on the turn after he had evaded Stephen Harrison just before the break.
Dowson was back in the side after six games out with a groin strain, but it was not his day, despite a handful of efforts.
He did do some damage, however, as one wayward effort sailed over the stand and smashed a car windscreen in the Heritage Park car park.
Darlington smashed through the 50-goal barrier in the second half. Thompson hit the landmark goal when he made it 3-1 with a penalty after tricky winger Adam Nicholls was fouled by James Taylor.
Nicholls was also involved in Quakers' fourth goal.
His cross was headed goal-wards by Gary Brown and parried by Dryden to Amar Purewal.
He headed home from close range and another header from a yard made it 5-1.
Scott scored after a shot by substitute Shaun Reay was diverted and arched high into the air until dropping for the goalscoring midfielder.
Ashington made a fight of it, though, and Lewis Storie drew warm applause after a vicious volley that brushed the top of Norton's net. But Quakers had the final word.
After receiving a pass midway inside the visitors' half from fellow substitute Steven Johnson, Chris Emms ran at goal before rolling the ball beyond Dryden.
The one league match Quakers did not win was at Guisborough when Matthew Grieve was at centre-back, his only league outing before returning to Ashington.
So Saturday was hugely disappointing for him, but a fine day for Darlington, who put their disappointing midweek display at home to South Shields behind them.
Gray said: "It was our best performance so far. As well as we did at Billingham Town last week when we won 7-1, from the start of the game today until the 90th minute we were in control.
"The work ethic was fantastic and I thought Dowson could've had a hat-trick in the first 15 minutes - he had three great chances.
"They responded well to Wednesday night. That wasn't our best performance, but today we showed what we can do when we start the game well and manage the game well.
"We kept the ball better and looked like a very good team."
Darlington's title rivals may have games in hand, but Gray would rather have points on the board - not that he would admit to having looked at the league table.
They next play tomorrow evening at Celtic Nation.
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