Darlington striker Amar Purewal reached a half century of goals by grabbing a hat-trick to help take his team up to second in the table with a comfortable 7-1 win over Harrogate RA.
Darlington went on to score some fine team goals and made the most of coming up against a retired goalkeeper still recovering from completing the Berlin Marathon at the weekend.
Veteran keeper Lee Ashforth, Harrogate's assistant manager who remains registered to play in case of emergency, had to come on midway through the first half after a dazed Karl Dean left the field having collided with Purewal when the striker bravely headed a 21st minute leveller.
Ashforth, a veteran of 500 games but no doubt still feeling the effects of Sunday’s exertions, replaced him and Darlington boss Martin Gray admitted it was a key moment.
Despite a cracking goal by Rob Youhill putting Harrogate 1-0 up, the winger cutting inside from the left and blasting beyond Peter Jameson, Quakers were 3-1 up at the break, and Gray said: “Until they scored they were the better team. The goal gave us the kick up the backside we needed.
“We got stronger from that point. The change in the game was their goalkeeper going off. It was a game-changer and it just shows you how important it is to have a quality goalkeeper on the bench.
“It came about through Amar’s bravery, getting on the end of a cross to score a goal. It was accidental, nothing malicious, and he got his rewards.”
The equaliser, after a Gary Brown cross, brought an abrupt end to the visitors’ promising opening and soon it was 2-1 with Purewal adding a second, a lovely left-foot finish to guide the ball beyond Ashforth’s reach and inside the far post having chested the ball down.
Darlington were into their stride now, getting bodies forward and debutant left-back Ian Watson was involved in the third goal.
Build-up play involving Watson and Adam Mitchell on the left led to the latter dancing around right-back Daniel Thirkell and pulling the ball back for Graeme Armstrong to side-foot home through a crowded penalty area.
Armstrong is now the division’s joint-leading scorer with seven league goals, level with Harrogate’s Nathan Cartman, who was lively and caused problems alongside strike-partner Malachi Farquarson.
Just after the restart Farquarson was guilty of a finish less eloquent than his grand name, lifting the ball over an empty net after Jameson collided with Cartman on the edge of the penalty area.
He paid the price when Purewal completed his hat-trick from close-range, after a Mitchell cross, and in doing so took his tally for the club to 50 in 90 appearances.
At 4-1 it was game over. Harrogate raised the white flag and gave Darlington the freedom of the pitch, allowing Stephen Thompson to whack home his long-awaited first goal of the season from outside penalty area for 5-1.
That was Thompson’s 47th goal for Darlington and with 25 minutes still to play he might have hoped to match Purewal’s 50, but it was substitute Liam Hatch who had the final say.
With Ashforth AWOL, Hatch scrambled home following a free-kick taken by Mitchell, and then added the seventh on 74 minutes when the ball effectively hit him, the stand-in keeper again nowhere to be seen, after a cross by debutant Matty Pennal.
Pennal, a youth team striker, was making his debut and twice Mitchell tried to set up the teenage striker, each time the cross evading him.
Despite the margin of victory, Gray said : “We can be better than that and to go where we want to go we are going to have to be better. Yeah, 7-1 looks good on paper, but nobody is getting carried away. You still only get three points. We move onto Saturday now when we need another strong performance.”
Gray dedicated the victory to Ernie Humphrey, a well-known Darlington fan who died last Friday. A minute’s silence was held before the match in memory of Mr Humphrey, 74, who in recent years had helped the club as a volunteer in the club shop.
“That win is for Ernie, who was a big Darlington fan and did a lot as a volunteer, so I’m glad we got a win for him.”
Match Report courtesy of the Northern Echo.