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Below-par Quakers grind out victory
Lacklustre Darlington put in a display that was underwhelming for the most part, yet managed to record their ninth win out of ten matches this season against Durham City.
They were disjointed and disappointing in the first half, but Martin Gray's men still had enough in them to grind out a 3-1 win with goals from Leon Scott, Amar Purewal and Steven Johnson.
Durham, who were 18th before the game, proved tough to beat so it says something for the character of Quakers' squad that despite not being at their best that they were able to take the points.
They remain six points clear at the top of the table and Gray tried to focus on the positives, but he admitted his team were poor during the first half.
"It's another win, that's nine out of ten now, and the difference was in the second half when we kept the ball better because the first half was nowhere near good enough," said Gray.
"It was probably the worst 45 minutes of the season and the players knew about it half time.
"The substitutions made us better. Steven Johnson made us more lively and Adam Clough made us keep the ball more, but I still can't accept that first half, because against a top team - no disrespect to Durham - we could've been 3-0 down.
"I can't be too harsh because we've won nine out of ten games now. They had to put a big shift in at Dunston on Saturday."
Darlington's lowest home crowd of the season, 911, witnessed the win. No doubt some will have been discouraged by the weather combined with the prospect of watching Man. United against Newcastle on television.
Those that favoured armchair football missed little of note during a largely lifeless first half at Heritage Park where neither side entertained.
There had been a warm reception before kick-off when Quakers hero Craig Liddle, a guest of matchball sponsors, the Darlington Supporters Trust, was introduced, but that was the last applause for some time.
The game needed a flash of inspiration and Quakers' left-winger Adam Nicholls almost provided it. He cut inside from the left, skipped over a challenge before blasting narrowly wide of Rhys Jobling's goal.
Scott was involved twice in crucial moments before the break. First he intercepted Gary Shaw's low cross to the near post, just beating Elliott Cutts to the ball after Scott Fenwick had played a fine ball out wide to Durham's left-winger.
And then the battling midfielder made it 1-0 on 37 minutes.
Harrison's cross was headed clear to Scott 25 yards from goal and although his well-struck shot took a deflection he will be credited with the goal.
It was his first for the club, making him the club's tenth different goalscorer this season.
Amar Purewal already has five goals, but he very nearly had a sixth as Quakers finished the half with a flourish, the forward hitting an upright from a tight angle.
There were far too many sloppy passes from Darlington and, typically, one of them led to Durham's equaliser.
Marc Ellison's ball from his own half into opposition territory was intercepted by Gary Shaw who broke quickly, sending Scott Fenwick into the penalty area to slot between Jack Norton and an upright.
After Durham striker Jack Pounder saw a shot go between Norton's legs, but hit the side-netting, Gray soon took action.
He sent on Clough and Johnson in place of Ellison and Shaun Reay and the substitutions worked a treat with Quakers soon reclaiming the lead.
A Clough cross saw Dan Madden bundle over Purewal in the penalty area and the Quakers forward smashed home his penalty in off the bar against his former club.
That was in the 67th minute, and soon the points were secured thanks to Johnson, but it was almost Scott that notched an eye-catching strike.
Scott tried his luck from 40 yards and although the ball rebounded off the post Johnson was on hand to smash home the rebound for his third goal for his hometown club.
It was almost 4-1. After a corner had not been sufficiently cleared, Dan Smith thundered an effort off the bar, but a fourth would have been harsh on hard-working Durham who were no worse than Darlington for lengthy spells.
*Gray is hoping to sign Billingham Synthonia midfielder Craig Gott before Saturday's home game with Newcastle Benfield.