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Thompson shines as goals flow for Quakers
Final Score: Darlington 3 Billingham Town 2
IF it's goals you're after then Darlington are the team to watch this season.
The tally already stands at 30 in eight games - 23 of them being in Quakers' favour - with only last Wednesday's 1-0 win over Newton Aycliffe featuring less than three goals.
Another five came in Saturday's win over Billingham Town, a scruffy 3-2 victory that presented a head-to-head of strikers that Darlington wanted recently: Stephen Thompson and Jamie Owens - the one that signed and the one that got away.
They both took centre-stage at various points with Thompson marking his full Darlington debut with two assists, while Owens got on the scoresheet with a goal that gave Billingham the lead on 35 minutes.
A strong and physical presence, the powerful No. 10 held off Joe Tait before curling the ball into the far corner from the corner of the penalty area to make it 1-0.
Town boss Carl Jarrett beamed: "Jamie can score goals like that from all over the pitch, he was just disappointed that he didn't score a few more because he had a few more chances.
"That's the way he is, he just wants to score goals in every game - that's what he's there for and that's what we expect of him.
"Darlington put the seven days' notice in for him and they spoke, but Jamie's a Billingham lad, I've known him since he was a young a kid and he's loyal. Yes he wants to push on, but he wants to play in every game and if he'd come to Darlo there's about four or five others strikers there and he might've been rotated so he stayed with us and I'm glad he did because he's a top performer."
Gray, however, saw Owens' goal differently, saying: "It was poor defending and the shot was meant to be a cross."
Among the raft of strikers that Owens would have been competing with at Darlington are David Dowson and Shaun Reay.
The former lasted only 12 minutes before suffering a groin injury, but substitute Reay can be relied upon to get on the end of chances and he pulled Darlington level just before the break, turning and blasting home from close-range after receiving a pass from former Billingham Town winger Chris Emms.
Quakers had created plenty of chances before the break, but Town keeper Danny Molyneux had only one save, pushing away an Emms drive.
Gray's men toiled against a team that came into the match second bottom, but ten minutes into the second half Quakers switched to 4-3-3 and soon Thompson made his first key contribution.
After Billingham sub James Cronesberry needlessly gave the ball away, Thompson crossed from the right for Amar Purewal to tap home his fifth goal of the season on 63 minutes.
The win was sealed when Thompson played a perfectly-weighted pass through to Reay who smartly lobbed Molyneux, to net his eighth goal in as many games.
Thompson had wasted a one-on-one in the first half, blazing over, and also had a shot cleared off the line in the second half, but he did enough to satisfy Gray.
"Some of the play from Stephen Thompson, picking people out and playing them in, I thought was a different class," said the boss, whose team is at Hebburn tomorrow in the Durham Challenge Cup.
"He's not going to run in behind like Dows and Shaun will, but what he will do pop up in those little pockets of space around the opposition's defence and he'll get a lot of assists over the season.
"I'm happy with the people that I've got in the squad and what's more important is what we do. Jamie Owens did well I thought. He was a handful, but I've signed Thompson and I'm really happy with him."
Gray was not so happy, though, when Billingham were handed a last-minute lifeline thanks a Quakers calamity.
Indecision by Jack Norton outside the penalty area allowed the Teessiders to nick the ball and, with the keeper dawdling, initially standing hands on hips, Owens fed Cronsesberry who fired home.
Were it not for Gary Brown's bold tackle in the penalty area on Cronsesberry then the exchange of words Norton had with angry supporters at full-time could have been yet more colourful.
In the dying seconds Reay rounded Molyneux, but the one-time Darlington youth team keeper recovered to deny the striker his hat-trick.
The save was not enough, however, to prevent Quakers recording their fifth win from five home games, maintaining their three-point lead at the top.
"It's a shame Shaun didn't get his hat-trick because he deserved it," added Gray.
"We've not played as well as I would liked to have done, but we got the three points and the players were told after the game that it wasn't good enough. Against a better team we would've been punished."
Billingham are now bottom of the pile, but Jarrett added: "If Darlington have had an off-day, I'd like to think it's because my team have contributed to that. We did well and am I'm very chuffed with the lads.
"We've been in this position before and we'll just keep going and we'll be okay if we can keep putting in performances like that."
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