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Gray lets players do the talking
Martin Gray’s not known to be a chap you’d choose to upset, give him a reason to be riled and the repercussions could be severe.
So perhaps in fear of the dressing room showdown he would undoubtedly have delivered during half-time at Billingham Synthonia on Saturday, his players engaged in their own mid-game inquest before Gray had even reached the changing rooms.
The scale of their forthright exchange of views, apparently, was such that Gray felt able to let his frustrated team, who were 1-0 down at the time, get things off their chest before he finally stepped in.
The outcome? Darlington emerged for the second 45 minutes looking like a different team to the one that had been so unconvincing before the break.
On top throughout a one-sided second half, the league leaders scored four goals and recorded a 12th successive win.
“When I walked in at half-time there was hell on,” admitted Gray. “The players have their own standards, they are not shy of having a go at each other.
“So I stood outside for a bit and let them get on with it. I let them shout and scream at each other and then went in and said ‘now shut up and sit down, this is what we’re going to do’.
“That kind of reaction comes out of their own pride. They want to do well all of the time so you can’t fault them for that.
“They’ve got a winning mentality, they want to win as many games as they can and they’ve got standards which we, as coaches, reinforce. The players responded well in the second half.”
The 4-1 win took their goal tally for the season to 60, with Saturday’s strikes strengthening their tag as being a ‘second half team’. In 17 league games, 19 of their goals have come before the break.
“We’ve looked better the longer games have gone on,” said Gray. “It’s not what we want, we want to be starting better, but it seems to be happening that way.
“Our fitness levels are good and I think quality does come through eventually.”
Quakers’ quality came to the fore, but Darlington disappointed in the opening half and for that Synners, seventh before the game, are owed credit.
Manager Michael Watson alongside coaches Mark Scott and Lee Tucker have formulated a plan to play attractive football and it undid Darlington for the first 45 minutes.
Their system saw their front-six players rotate and interchange to such a degree that they merited their half-time lead, despite the goal coming in dubious circumstances.
Synners attacked on the break with Danny Johnson dribbling down the left, racing past a static Adam Clough, before sending over a delivery that sailed over Jack Norton and into the net off the far post. A clear cross, Johnson’s bemused expression said it all.
Watson said: “All of our coaching sessions are all about keeping the ball, getting it down, pass and move, pass and move.
“When it comes off like it did in the first half today it looks great. It’s the way we’ll go forward, we’ll continue with it and won’t change our beliefs because we’ve lost some games.
“In the first half we got on the ball and played really well and caused them a few problems. We knew they’d come back at us, but we didn’t get on the ball enough in the second half.
“Once they got the lead they were, for the last 20-25 minutes, a lot better than us.”
Darlington twice hit the woodwork soon after the restart – via Joe Tait and Stephen Thompson – before Gary Brown levelled on 57 minutes, stabbing home at close-range after Amar Purewal had flicked on an Adam Clough free-kick.
Another ten minutes after the captain had celebrated his first for the club, the turnaround was complete.
Chris Emms, playing against the club he was with last season, scored with his first touch after coming off the bench, tapping into an empty net after Thompson’s burst through the middle ended with Synners’ David Abel inadvertently prodding the ball to Quakers’ sub.
Thompson was again an emblematic figure. Combining with brute strength with an adroit first touch, the stocky forward shouldn’t be in the Northern League and is doing as much as anyone to ensure this season will be both his and Quakers’ last at this level.
He wrapped up the points by powering home the third goal, after good work down the left by full-back Darren Richardson and then Leon Scott notched his customary goal. He collected Emms’ through-ball to beat Josh Moody from 12 yards to record his eighth goal in eight games.
“Billingham did really well in the first half,” added Gray.” They’re a really good footballing team. They kept the ball down, they passed it and caused us lots of problems.
“But it was about what we did today because that’s all I’m concerned about, how we got ourselves back in the game. The players listened at half-time and it was a great response.”
Goals: Johnson (30, 1-0); Brown (57, 1-1), Emms (68, 2-1), Thompson (76, 3-1), Scott (80, 4-1)
Bookings: McWilliams (56, foul)
Referee: Paul Brown (Newcastle) 7
Billingham Synthonia (4-3-3): Moody 6; Burton 6, Robinson 7, Abel 7, McWilliams 7; Huggins (Cattermole 75), Okosieme 7 (Crossen 69, 6), Wilson 6; LIDDLE 7, Jameson 6, Johnson 7 (Jennings 77). Subs (not used): Blyth, Newby
Darlington (4-4-2): Norton 7; Harrison 7, BROWN 8, Tait 7, Richardson 7; Nicholls 6 (Emms 67, 7), Scott 7, Clough 6 (Keltie 61, 7), Amar Purewal 6; Dowson 6 (Reay 75), Thompson 8. Subs (not used): Turns (gk), Smith
GARY Brown – Capped another strong display by notching his first goal for the club