8:00am Monday 4th November 2013
By Craig Stoddart
When the conditions are as atrocious as they were in Birkenhead on Saturday, it would be unreasonable to expect any team to be at its free-flowing best.
Up against the wind and rain as well as a stubborn Cammell Laird, Darlington had to adopt a professional approach in surroundings that provided another jolting reminder of how far the club has fallen.
As the rain lashed down, a crowd of 163 - three times Lairds' average - crammed into the sheds either side of the pitch while the teams weathered the storm during a tight first half. Resilience and sheer bloody-mindedness were required by players and hardy fans.
But once the Merseyside monsoon had passed, Quakers were able to show different characteristics after the break as they upped their game and recorded a welcome 2-0 win.
Nathan Fisher and Terry Galbraith netted and they could have scored more, as has been the case in most games of late, but after three league fixtures without a win nobody was going to complain.
Certainly not Martin Gray, whose team now have the chance to restore momentum with two games this week at Heritage Park, against Ramsbottom on Wednesday and Northwich on Saturday.
"It was important that we got the win, it was a big win," admitted the manager.
"Chris Hunter and Alan White were strong. They won headers and they made us really solid, they set the standards.
"Jordan Robinson put in a good performance, he was strong defensively and he got forward well.
"It was a strong team performance in what were really bad conditions, especially in the first half. The rain was torrential so it was difficult to get any sort of fluid football going.
"We tried to play balls to the front men with quality. We didn't do it for the first 15 minutes, but eventually we started putting good balls in.
"I always felt we were in control and once the weather settled down we pushed on."
Darlington did force a handful of first-half openings with Fisher hitting the post while Stephen Thompson beat the keeper, but the effort rolled the wrong side of the post.
As missing chances has been Darlington's downfall lately, Gray's message at half-time was simple.
He said: "We had two or three one-on-ones in the first half so I told the boys at half-time that we needed to be more clinical.
"We should've been making the keeper work in those situations. He got off lightly, so I had a bit of a go at them regarding taking chances.
"In the second half, Fisher was in the right place, which I'd expect of a good forward, and it was a great glancing header."
His goal, his first since joining Darlington, came on 53 minutes, though he owed much to Galbraith for a whipped-in cross following a marauding run from the left-back.
With the pitch holding up well despite the first-half downpour, which led to the Lairds changing into last season's home shirts at the break, Quakers took a grip and Fisher had a shot cleared off the line by left-back Chay Dysart.
Quakers looked even better when Chris Moore, who had been dropped, replaced Nathan Thomas, but what pleased Gray most of all was the performance of Curtis Edwards.
Having recently become a scapegoat for a minority of fans, and having borne the brunt of one particular supporter's rant immediately after last week's draw at Lancaster, the teenage midfielder responded to his critics.
Edwards enjoyed his best display so far in a black and white shirt, with a composed 90 minutes allowing him to pick out passes and demonstrate why Gray is such a fan.
"Curtis Edwards was outstanding," said the manager. "I don't want to make a big deal out of last week. Whether there was an issue last week or not, his performance was excellent.
"I didn't speak to him about last week, all I said to him was to go and do what you do every week and he put in another good performance.
"Today his performance was of a really high standard. He's a footballer, he uses the ball well, he's got a good range of passing, short and long, he mixed the play up and can put passes into the right areas.
"No doubt he'll have had what happened last week in the back of his mind, but he just got on with it."
Peter Jameson retained his place in goal as Mark Bell failed a fitness test, and he did everything asked of him without fuss, including saving from team-mate Jordan Robinson after the defender got a foot to the ball when defending a corner.
David Dowson almost finished off the Lairds with a thunderous effort that was beaten away by Kevin Atherton, but the goalkeeper was powerless to prevent Galbraith's penalty.
Awarded in injury time after Thompson was tripped, Galbraith's second goal of the season completed a deserved win which sees Darlington move up a place to fourth.
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