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Match Report: Darlington 2 South Shields 1
RELIEVED Darlington manager Martin Gray admitted his side “got out of jail” as they recorded a 2-1 victory last night, their 13th win of the season.
Darlington-born Steven Johnson was the local hero, coming off the bench to grab a late winner against South Shields soon after the visitors’ had had a goal of their own ruled out on a night in which Quakers failed to reach the standards set previously.
Last Saturday they swept aside lowly Billingham Town 7-1 and another big win may have been expected against a team that conceded 29 goals in their past eight games. That run included an 11-0 defeat to Shildon.
But Quakers were disappointing and the visitors deserved something from the game. “I’m glad to get our 13th win out of the way if I’m honest,” said Gray, whose team remain six points ahead of Spennymoor.
“If someone had said to me at the start of the season that we’d win 13 of the first 14 games I’d never have believed them.
“We were outstanding on Saturday, but you’re not going to be outstanding every week.
Which team is? That was one of our lesser performances of the season.”
From the outset Gray’s team were not convincing and the Mariners almost took the lead.
Barry Marshall was a late change to the South Shields team, taking the place of Barrie Smith who became stuck in traffic en route, and he came close to scoring after an error by Jack Norton. He made a hash of a clearance outside the penalty area.
Marshall tried his luck with a long-range effort that appeared to be going in, but Gary Brown scampered back to clear off the line and spare the keeper’s blushes.
Brown was solid at the back, but it is Leon Scott who has been the star man of late and he put Darlington ahead on 23 minutes.
He lashed home his fourth goal of the season from 18 yards after a goalmouth scramble following a corner that South Shields struggled to clear.
Stout defending from Shields, however, kept Quakers away from Thomas Courtney’s goal, one such example being Lee Bell’s outstretched boot cutting out what appeared to be a perfectlyweighted pass from Adam Nicholls to Chris Emms.
Centre-back Bell had a freekick saved just before the break, as did Emms at the opposite end at the end of a half that lacked excitement and it failed to spark at the beginning of the second period too.
Ten minutes in, Amar Purewal was thwarted from distance by Courtney and that proved to be the forward’s last involvement as he was replaced by Shaun Reay. Almost immediately, the sub tested the keeper when played in by Emms.
But that sight of goal proved to be Darlington’s last for some time as South Shields gained a foothold. With Darlington struggling to keep possession, the visitors pressed and got their rewards on 71 minutes.
Norton was involved again, conceding a free-kick for handing outside the penalty area. Bell took advantage, floating the ball over the wall and into the net.
The equaliser had been coming, and Shields almost soon had a second, but Norton atoned for his error.
He tipped a header over the bar from former Darlington RA striker Stephen Allison at close-range, but Quakers were handed a let-off when Sean Sweeney had a ‘goal’ disallowed for a push on Joe Tait.
Quakers soon took advantage.
Johnson took a Norton clearance under control, broke into the penalty area before rounding the keeper and showing composure to score.
He reacted by sprinting up the touchline to celebrate, showing how much the goal meant to him and his teammates as Darlington celebrated a fortunate three points – and their ninth successive win.
Gray added: “It was disappointing that we let them back into the game and we conceded a cheap goal. But Jack made up for his mistake with a fabulous piece of distribution to Stevie Johnson and we got out of jail.”
Goals: Scott (23, 1-0); Bell (71, 1-1);
Johnson (86, 2-1)
Bookings: Brown (72, foul); Tait (83,
Referee: David McCallum 7
DARLINGTON (4-4-2): Norton 7;
Harrison 6, BROWN 7, Tait 6, Richardson
7; Emms 6 (Clough 67, 7), Scott 7, Gott
5, Nicholls 5 (Johnson 74); Thompson 5,
Amar Purewal 5 (Reay 56, 5). Subs (not
used): Morris (gk), Gregan
SOUTH SHIELDS (4-4-2): Courtney 7;
Ford 6, Donaldson 7, BELL 7, Talbot 6;
Marshall 6, Chapim 6, Anzevui 7, Feasey
6; Sweeney 6, Allison 7 (Burnicle 83).
Subs (not used): Burnell, Kane, Robinson,
MAN OF THE MATCH
GARY Brown – Competed fiercely and
was first to the ball more often than not