Johnson takes seconds to announce his arrival

8:00am Monday 19th August 2013

By Craig Stoddart

Anything Rickie Lambert can do, Andy Johnson can do better.

Three days after Lambert came off the bench to score a header with his first touch on his England debut, Johnson did likewise for Darlington, but it took the striker even less time to make his mark.

Introduced on 53 minutes with his new team holding a slender 1-0 lead over Warrington Town, he'd been on the length of time it took Terry Galbraith to whip a free-kick into the penalty area before introducing himself with a bullet header that nearly took the net off.

Stunning. A debut to remember.

Suddenly it was 2-0, Darlington were in the driving seat and Johnson had scored one of the fastest debut goals in the club's history.

Johnson said: "I didn't expect it one bit. I came on and my eyes just lit up, the ball was straight on my head.

"I was a bit disappointed not to be starting, as you would be. You've just got to get on with it.

"I was marked when I came on, but I span off the back of him and the free-kick was perfect."

Galbraith's pinpoint delivery handed Johnson the perfect debut and in turn Martin Gray enjoyed a birthday to remember.

It may not have been the most thrilling of displays by his side, but it made for the ideal start to life in the Evo-Stik League.

A win and a clean sheet were the rewards for an efficient, if not spectacular, performance, enough to see off their first opponents at Step 4 level.

It was not a commanding display like some of those seen in the Northern League; Warrington were more solid than many teams Darlington faced last season.

Quakers earned the points by maintaining a resilient rearguard while gradually breaking down Warrington and soon concerns caused by pre-season results were forgotten.

That it was the first time Gray had been able to field a strong side, apart from the injured Gary Brown, was not lost on the birthday boy.

"After a difficult pre-season, it was important to put that behind us and get a win as well as a clean sheet because we conceded a few goals in pre-season, cheap goals," he said.

"We had most of the squad available today and better quality in the starting XI and that makes a big difference. We looked a lot stronger.

"Today is the first time the team has played together and they became stronger as the game went on. We managed the game from start to finish."

Gray's team went ahead on 25 minutes, Jonny Davis driving home from 16 yards.

Having signed midway through last season, it was the midfielder's first goal for the club.

Gray added: "It was a fantastic bit of build-up play from David Dowson to roll the ball in and Jonny Davis, who had an excellent game, took his goal really well. You could see his confidence grow after that.

"The first ten or 15 minutes were always going to be nervy for both teams, but once we got that goal we took control."

The goal infuriated Warrington manager Shaun Reid. Watching from the main stand, he was soon bellowing instructions into his mobile to a colleague in the dug-out across the pitch.

Should the television producers responsible for memorable fly-on-the-wall documentary Premier Passions ever consider a sequel, they could do worse than keep a camera on Reid, whose better known brother, Peter, remains the benchmark for profanity in football. While Peter Reid littered the behind-the-scenes hit in the 1990s, which followed Sunderland, with an array of colourful language, on Saturday his brother portrayed a similar angst-ridden manager.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Quakers’ Stephen Thompson charges past Warrington’s Jack West
Quakers’ Stephen Thompson charges past Warrington’s Jack West

Marching up and down the concourse at the back of the stand, occasionally nearby Darlington fans would involuntarily eavesdrop into an outburst made into his mobile or direct to one of his players.

It was difficult not to admire his passion, his will to win.

Unfortunately for him, his team were second best and, while Reid raged, Gray was able to relax and enjoy his 42nd birthday.

His team, marshalled at the back by stand-in captain Leon Scott, were rarely given any trouble from the moment Davis netted.

Darlington, who gave a debut to three players in their starting line-up, Chris Hunter, Paul Weldon and Chris Moore, got better as the game went on.

At the start of the second half a fantastic save by Warrington's Craig Dootson denied Quakers.

He threw himself at Stephen Thompson to block a close-range shot after Galbraith's effort had fallen to the Darlington play-maker.

There was no way Dootson was going to stop Johnson's powerful header though, and the sub came close to scoring again with two more efforts on an encouraging first appearance.

Gray must now decide whether to start with Johnson tomorrow at Bamber Bridge.

He said: "Competition for places is healthy. Andy Johnson comes off the bench and scores with his first touch, so that's good for Dowson and Amar Purewal, who are looking over their shoulder.

"It's the same for the midfield players.

"We've brought players in and some haven't started. I told them the team at 2pm and some were disappointed, but it's what we do as a squad over the season that counts, not one game."

One worrying aspect of the day, though, was the attendance of 1,176 - 200 fewer than last season's average.


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