Final Score: Darlington 2 Prescot Cables 2
GOALS change games, goes the phrase. And so does Stephen Thompson.
Darlington’s play-maker arrived at the club from Durham City 13 months ago and he’s proven to be a valuable asset that can be relied upon to provide a goal, either with the final touch or an assist.
Saturday was another example of his terrific ability to conjure up something, just when it looked like it wasn’t to be Darlington’s day as they trailed 2-1 late on to Prescot Cables, having spurned numerous chances.
His touch had been occasionally heavy and some of his shooting wayward, but never count him out and in the closing stages he arrowed an 18-yard shot high into the net to rescue a point.
His assists are not a matter of record, but his goals are and Saturday’s was his 25th in his 50th game for Quakers.
Manager Martin Gray avoids labelling Thompson his best signing, but admitted the 24-year-old can change games single-handedly.
He said: “He’s been one of many good signings, he’s a top player and that goal stat is very good, for a wide player to get one in two. And he’s scored some big goals in big games.
“He’s a key player, a gamechanger.
“What a free-kick. Big players produce big goals at the right time.”
The goal came in the 81st minute of a match that Darlington would have had wrapped up by then had they not been wasteful in front of goal on a wet afternoon in which they performed well but let themselves down with slack defending.
It was going well when Terry Galbraith scored on 19 minutes. He headed home the rebound after Adam Reid saved his penalty, awarded after David Dowson had been tripped by James McCulloch.
From the restart Dowson had a shot blocked by the excellent Antony Shinks, and the talismanic Thompson was inches away from making it 2-0 when his cross bounced past everybody before rebounding off the post and rolling agonisingly across goal and wide.
However, the visitors levelled with a goal that frustrated Gray. Leon Scott unnecessarily conceded a free-kick by tripping Connor McCarthy, and the delivery was allowed to ping around the penalty area until Robert Duran scored acrobatically.
Darlington’s David Dowson
Quakers can ill afford a repeat of such defending this evening at third-placed Curzon Ashton. No doubt their representative at Heritage Park on Saturday will have been encouraged by both of Prescot’s goals, the second following a corner midway through the second half.
After Scott lost possession, a well-worked routine saw Prescot flick the ball on at the near post to Gerard Murphy, who ghosted in unmarked to make it 2-1.
Gray said: “We didn’t defend the free-kick for the first goal and it was given away in a silly area.
“Both of their goals came from set-pieces, they didn’t open us up like we opened them up. We gave away goals by being undisciplined, a corner and a free-kick, that’s the top and bottom of it.”
Before and after Prescot’s second, however, Quakers had been both unfortunate and wasteful in front of goal.
Curtis Edwards hit the outside of the post, Chris Hunter saw a header acrobatically saved by Reid, Dowson was twice off-target in good positions after the break and substitute Steven Johnson put a header too close to the keeper.
But Prescot deserve credit for being tough opponents, and Gray admitted: “Like every team that comes here, they were well organised.
“They’re a Scouse team, very nitty gritty and in your face, they upset you and I admire that. They play for setpieces and they achieve it.”
Gray was not so magnanimous, however, when discussing the moment Thompson fell in the penalty after being challenged by Shinks.
“I thought there were some bad challenges and how he didn’t give a penalty is beyond me,” said Gray. “The referee said the boy made contact with the ball, but it looked so blatant, the way he slid in and took Thompson out.”
Gray was also unhappy with the visitors’ gamesmanship, saying: “They came with a game-plan, to slow the game down and take a point, and I was conscious that at freekicks and goal kicks they were taking an extra 30 seconds to try to kill the game.”
Poetic justice then, that Prescott were richly punished for Reid’s time-wasting.
Referee Ian Quinn cautioned the keeper for taking so long to release the ball and awarded Quakers an indirect free-kick that was touched by Edwards to Thompson, who did the rest.
Johnson had the ball in the net with the final touch of the game but he was offside, leaving Gray to reflect on a frustrating day.
“I was delighted with the performance,” he said.
“I think we must have scored all our goals in the past two games. We had as many chances today as we had in our last home game when we won 7-0 and the performance today was just as good. The difference this time is that we didn’t score as many.”