9:00am Monday 17th March 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Full-time: Northwich Victoria 1 Darlington 1
Advantage Curzon Ashton. While the title favourites were winning narrowly at Farsley, Darlington's inability to keep up the pace after drawing at Northwich Victoria means they have lost ground at a crucial stage.
The top two teams meet in a crunch encounter at Heritage Park on Wednesday evening, but winning at the weekend would have ensured Darlington maintained a level of pressure on Curzon.
Instead, after drawing 1-1 with Northwich, Martin Gray's team are nine points adrift of a team who have a game in hand and have lost only twice. Quakers can only hope for a Curzon collapse.
Gray remains upbeat, though, picking out the positives from Saturday's score draw, a result which ended Darlington's run of ten successive away wins.
"I'm not interested in what Curzon are doing, all I'm interested in is what we do against them," said the manager," who has re-signed Steven Johnson from Shildon and brought in attacking midfielder Lewis Wing from Seaham Red Star.
"We've got to go into the game positively and we go into it after picking up another point today.
"We've got to take all of the positives out of today's game and get on with it. We need to keep creating chances and we'll be fine."
Creating chances, at least in the first half, was not a problem. It was taking them that became an issue, against a Northwich defence which got its act together at the break and were eventually as solid as the statistics suggest.
Their 13th position in the table is misleading because they possess one of the division's best defensive records and have form for taking points off the leading sides.
Twice they have drawn with Curzon and they defeated Darlington in November, though Quakers looked on course for revenge when Thompson netted after only six minutes on Saturday.
In a move that saw Amar Purewal twice bring team-mates into play, Thompson powered past a couple of challenges in a central area before drilling into the net from 18 yards to reach 20 league goals.
Not a bad total for a player described as "a little bit overweight" by Curzon manager John Flanagan.
Thompson laughed off Flanagan's criticism, though he would no doubt love to add to his tally on Wednesday.
He could have added more on Saturday as Darlington dictated play in the first half, though it was Purewal who forgot to bring his shooting boots.
On 24 minutes the team's second top scorer was played into the penalty area by David Dowson, but thundered a shot against the bar.
As Quakers were comfortable, however, there were few concerns when it remained only 1-0 at the break.
Gray said: "I was pleased with the first half performance. It was another great goal from Thompson.
"But I've told the players, you need a second goal in any game, just to stop the opposition's momentum. We had enough chances to win three or 4-0, no question about it.
"We didn't start the second half as well as we did the first. The home team are always going to have a spell in the game.
Darlington’s David Dowson gets a shot in ahead of Northwich’s Danny Meadowcroft
"They were a bit better than they were in the first half, but we had one-on-ones which we didn't make the most of.
"The game was tighter, but they didn't hurt us. They didn't test our keeper, but if we'd taken our chances then the game would've been out of sight."
Nathan Fisher started on the right of midfield in a 4-4-2 due to Leon Scott's absence through injury and he was inches away from scoring with a header at the beginning of the second period, in which neither side took a grip of the game.
It drifted along until Northwich slowly forced Quakers back and Darlington failed to respond.
In the 78th minute a corner by Brian Summerskill, a busy midfielder whose contribution otherwise amounted to a series of misplaced passes, was flicked on and striker Michael Clarke was unmarked to score at the far post.
"It was poor defending at a set-piece, a nothing goal, so it's two points dropped," admitted Gray.
Darlington rallied, but again Purewal missed with only the keeper to beat, while Fisher also lifted a shot over the bar.
In the dying moments, Northwich defender Marc Joseph could consider himself highly unlucky to be shown a red card for a foul on Thompson that was late, but neither malicious nor reckless.
Centre-back partner Danny Meadowcroft, however, escaped a caution on numerous occasions, and Gray said of the referee: "In the first half he gave two free-kicks against Meadowcroft, but then right at the end another player gives a free-kick away and he sends him off. So inconsistent."
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