9:00am Monday 25th November 2013
By Craig Stoddart
Full-time: Darlington 4 Ossett Town 1
Stephen Thompson's stunning long-range free-kick became the 200th Darlington goal since the beginning of last season as Quakers' resurgence continued.
The landmark goal in another high-scoring victory was the highlight of a comfortable 4-1 win against Ossett Town that saw Terry Galbraith continue his own return to form as Darlington made it 12 goals in three entertaining games.
So it's a shame that the Darlington public's interest has declined.
Saturday's attendance numbered only 868 - the lowest Quakers gate for a league game at Heritage Park - with a handful of poor results, including back-to-back home defeats, appearing to have been enough to sicken off a fickle few.
It being a chilly day will no doubt have been among the excuses employed by those that stayed away.
There are other factors, such as Quakers no longer benefitting from the healthy visiting numbers that came with being in the Northern League, while the continuing exile in Bishop Auckland is never going to encourage greater numbers of fans. The sooner Darlington return to Darlington the better.
Perhaps a few of the floating non-league fans instead headed for Spennymoor Town versus West Auckland.
Brian Atkinson looked at the attendance more positively.
"It was a really cold day so 800 and something is still a decent crowd at this level," said Quakers' assistant manager, who conducted media duties as Martin Gray was unavailable.
"We need as many supporters as we can get, but that's not a bad crowd in weather like this."
The figure of 868 is well above the average in the Evo-Stik First Division, while the home game at this stage a year ago was also below par with 929 turning up against Billingham Synthonia. That was on a midweek evening and Darlington can usually count on 1,000-plus crowds on Saturdays.
At least there are highlights available to view so those that didn't make the trip to Heritage Park will be able to watch Thompson's tremendous tenth-minute free-kick online. Those among the 868 will want to see it again too.
"It was a good free-kick. But we were asking him to stick it at the far post towards Alan White - what do we know!" admitted Atkinson.
While the free-kick was a corker, powered over the wall from 30 yards after Thompson had been fouled by Richard Patterson, minutes later he was inches away from scoring what would surely have been the best goal of his career.
Again at long-range, the ball sat up nicely for Thompson to thunder a venomous volley that rattled the woodwork with a loud thud before arcing back into play.
When Thompson catches the ball just right there is little any keeper can do to stop it, as evidenced against New Mills last week, and Saturday's was such a clean strike that it deserved to be rewarded with a goal.
Whatever the excuses of those that gave the game a miss, the fans that made the effort to attend were rewarded with a one-way first half in which Darlington took a 3-0 lead and looked good to match the six goals they put past Ossett in the FA Trophy on October 5.
Atkinson said: "In the last three weeks we've been playing some good stuff and in the first half we started exactly as we would want because we scored early.
"Everything was great in the first half apart from that late slip when we let them get a goal back."
Two goals inside three minutes on the half hour effectively killed the game as a contest, the first from Galbraith with a deflected free-kick, awarded after Bruno Pilatos was body-checked by Chris Fisher.
There was an element of fortune about Galbraith's goal as it took a significant deflection, but he deserved it after putting in 90 minutes that suggested he is back to his best, having struggled with a shin splints injury for most of the season.
"In the last few games Terry has been getting back to something like the player he was last year," said Atkinson.
"I don't know if he should've rested or not when he was injured, but he's definitely becoming the player he was last season.
"When he plays like that he's an asset and he was worthy of the man of the match award."
Galbraith had a hand in the third goal too, his run to the byline ending in a cross to the far post, where Jonny Davis rammed home his third of the season.
Slack defending, however, allowed the visitors to pull a goal back in a rare attack.
Pilatos was beaten to the ball and left-winger Steven Jeff was able to cross for Callum Ward to head home.
Encouraged by Ward's goal, Ossett made a go of it during a nondescript second half that died a slow death.
There was the occasional moment of interest, such as when Thompson was clearly fouled in the 18-yard box but was not awarded a penalty, while Chris Hunter wellied a shot over at a corner.
Darlington stood firm and allowed Osset few sights of goal. Having thrown away a 3-0 lead not long ago against Buxton, nobody of a Quakers persuasion was being complacent, so a sigh of relief greeted Amar Purewal's header in the closing stages.
He nodded in at close-range after well-worked build-up play led to Nathan Fisher crossing from the right.
Atkinson added: "Ossett were encouraged by that goal they got before half-time. We've got to manage the game better at times. We can't score every time we go forward and the players have taken that on board.
"It became a little bit of a basketball game, going from one end of the field to the other, and we weren't looking after the ball well enough.
"Once we started taking control of the ball we took control of the game a little bit more, but in the end it was a comfortable result."
Next up are two successive away games, Mossley and top-of-the-table Warrington.
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