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Quakers grind out victory over Celtic
Final Score: Darlington 1 Celtic Nation 0
STEPHEN THOMPSON’S 22nd goal of the season proved enough to give Darlington the points that take them a step closer to promotion in recording a win over Celtic Nation that was like few others season.
So often Quakers have scored a hatful of goals – their tally is now 135 – but for once, Martin Gray’s men had to grind out a narrow win.
The opposition were among the best to have visited Heritage Park, and Gray admitted that the visitors put in a good showing.
Tenth-placed Celtic had won only one of their previous seven games, but they deserved something while Quakers were lacklusture in recording a 17th successive win.
Gray said: “It’s three points that are just as important as Saturday’s and it’s another clean sheet.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but we’re not going to play well every week and we’ve played fantastically well all season. At this stage of the season it’s all about points.
“I think Celtic played well, they’re one of the best teams we’ve had in here in a long time, so you’ve got to give them credit.
“Because it was 1-0 they stayed in the game and put us under a lot of pressure, but we showed great character and dug in.”
With tomorrow’s game against Bishop Auckland in mind, Gray rested Terry Galbraith, who scored both goals in Saturday’s remarkable 2-0 win over West Auckland, a game that remained a talking point as last night’s game got underway.
The initial signs were that the visit of Celtic Nation could be just as entertaining, though due to football reasons rather than another red card festival.
With only a couple of minutes gone the Cumbrians’ striker Michael Reed had a powerful shot kept out by Mark Bell, while it was not long before Quakers scored.
David Dowson’s shot rebounded off the post and Thompson’s follow-up hit the bar before the latter volleyed home the rebound.
Gray admitted: “I’d thought about resting Tommo with Terry Galbraith, but I’m glad I didn’t now.
“It was a great volley – he’s got very good technique.”
Almost immediately the Nation hit back and Bell had to save from Jacob Simpson while the other end came an embarrassing moment for Dowson.
Amar Purewal crossed for his unmarked team-mate and he attempted to blast the ball first-time, but succeeded only kicking thin air and missing the ball entirely.
And that was about it regarding entertainment for the remainder of the half.
It all went a bit flat, in stark contrast to Saturday when there were two red cards for the visitors in each half.
Furthermore, the opposition had more about them than their mid-table placing suggests, with player-manager Steve Skinner a canny turn in midfield while diminutive strike-pairing Reed and Dean Douglas were nippy enough to cause problems.
Darlington did not appear in immediate danger of conceding, though, but they were not threatening to score and Nation keeper Dan Lowson did not have a save to make.
Gray sent his team out early for the second half and, although there was again little spark about Quakers’ play, it was not long before Chris Emms had a chance, but he lifted his effort over.
Soon, the same player’s freekick was met at the far post by Joe Tait who hit the woodwork from a tight angle.
There were half-hearted penalty appeals when James Parker held off Purewal, before came another wake-up call.
Bell had to save low from Douglas following a poor kick by the keeper and Gray reacted by withdrawing Thompson and sending on Steven Johnson.
Another change saw defensive- minded midfielder Darren Richardson sent on as Darlington switched to a narrower shape in an attempt to nullify the Nation’s attacks through the middle.
It worked, though there was a scare in the dying minutes when David Wallace thundered a long-range volley narrowly wide before Lee Hoolickin curled a free-kick into Bell’s hands.
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