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Quakers take their chances to grab points
PLAYED nine, won eight and six points clear at the top of the table - so far, so good for Darlington.
Saturday's trip to Dunston UTS saw the division's top scorers plunder another three-goal win, taking their goal tally for the season to 26, which is Quakers' reward for taking their chances.
Because, on the balance of play, they were not three goals better than Dunston.
As in the four-goal win over Dunston at Heritage Park last month, the scoreline was flattering and the Tynesiders felt aggrieved at losing so heavily having created just as many, if not more, scoring opportunities as Martin Gray's men.
They carved open Quakers' defence and Jack Norton's fine penalty save for Darlington midway through the first half proved crucial.
He leapt to his left to keep out Andrew Bulford's effort, after Gary Brown had felled Stephen Goddard, and that was typical of Dunston's failings in front of goal.
Darlington made them pay as within 120 seconds Joe Tait put the visitors ahead, capitalising on slack marking to head home Chris Emms' free-kick to register his first goal for the club.
"We had a bit of luck as well, there's no question about that. They had two or three great chances, but you always need a bit of luck," admitted Gray.
"The difference between the two teams was that we took our chances. There was nothing between the teams until we went 2-0 up. Until then we could just as easily have been 2-0 down because Dunston are a strong team and they're in a false position near the bottom of the table."
Bulford had an effort ruled out for offside and a Ben Cattanach header hit the woodwork, meaning Quakers led 1-0 at the break, but they found themselves under sustained pressure at the beginning of the second half.
Midfielder Michael Dixon forced an impressive double-save from Norton and Darlington right-back Stephen Harrison cleared a close-range Terry Galbraith effort off the line.
The ball just would not go in for Dunston, but the points were sealed by the 72nd minute when Leon Scott was bundled over in the penalty area by Liam Connell. A sterner referee than Shane Sugden might have further disciplined the keeper, likewise Brown for conceding the first-half penalty.
Unlike Bulford, Shaun Reay made no mistake, rifling the ball high into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
Thereafter, Darlington were more composed, keeping possession for longer, and there was even time for teenage substitute Connor Lowes to earn a place in the record books.
In injury time he intercepted Stephen Gibson's weak backpass and rounded Connell to become Darlington's youngest ever goalscorer. Having been born on May 14, 1996, he beats Curtis Main 's record by four months.
Keep going at the current rate, averaging just under three-goals per game, and more records will be broken.
Dunston boss Billy Irwin has now seen his team concede seven to Quakers in two matches. However, he'd been more impressed with Darlington's promotion rivals.
His team have faced Shildon , Spennymoor and West Auckland in a tricky start to the season and he said: "We've been beaten 3-0 and you'd think they've won the World Cup the way they went on. We played a better team on Tuesday, Shildon, and beat them 4-1.
"The scoreline makes it look like Darlington were the better team but we deserved something out of the game.
"At the start of the second half we were camped in their half for 20 minutes and missed around six chances, Bulford had four of them. It was chance after chance. Galbraith missed one from three yards I think. It just wouldn't go in.
"It was one of those days. We're down at the bottom at the minute and things aren't going for us. It's tough and we've got to pull round."
Greater tests are to come for Darlington. Seven of their nine games have come against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.
Irwin added: "Shildon are definitely a better team than Darlington from what I've seen. It's not sour grapes. It's a tough league and we'll have a hard game on Tuesday against Benfield.
"Spennymoor are the team to catch, regardless of how big the crowds are at Darlington and the money.
"For me, Spennymoor will win the league hands down. I'll have a bet with anyone that Spennymoor will win the league and you've also got the likes of Shildon, who are also got a good team."
In contrast, Gray is not looking much further ahead than Wednesday, when Durham visit Heritage Park.
"If someone had said to me two months ago that we'd have won eight of the first nine games I've had snapped their hands off," he said.
"I'm not getting too carried away at all. Spennymoor are still unbeaten.
"We're just taking it one game at a time and getting as many points on the board as possible as quickly as possible so that we're in a position to challenge at the end of the season.
"That's another game done, it's Durham City now on Wednesday."