Darlington have gone top of the table after a comfortable 2-0 win at Prescot Cables.
The victory was Quakers’ fifth in succession and the 76th of Martin Gray’s 101 league matches since becoming manager, and this was as deserved as any of the previous victories during his tenure.
Darlington were on top from the first whistle against the lowly opposition, who came into the game having drawn all four previous home matches.
Terry Galbraith was handed his first start since recovering from a broken toe and he started on the left of midfield, where he used to play for Dunston UTS, and in only the second minute whipped a ball in that a defender got to before Graeme Armstrong could make a connection.
But it was not much longer had passed when Quakers went 1-0 up with a terrific strike by Leon Scott.
The midfielder, back in midfield after an outing at left-back at Brighouse on Tuesday, volleyed home from the edge of the penalty area on eight minutes.
He made the most of a weak clearance, smashing the ball into the goal off the inside of an upright.
The goal came amid a strong first 45 minutes from Darlington who were lively, spending large chunks of the first period in opposition half.
They came close to a second goal, but Prescot keeper Ciaran Gibson pushed away Armstrong’s ball into the six-yard box after the striker had turned right-back Andy Griffiths on the byline.
The match was the first one Tom Portas has missed this season, the midfielder having sustained a injury in midweek.
Galbraith had a chance to score, but volleyed wide of the far post as Quakers’ lively start continued, with the hosts only fleetingly threatening Peter Jameson’s goal.
Cables striker Rob Doran fired wide from 20 yards after Prescot gained possession due to Chris Hunter’s loose long pass going straight to an opposition defender.
The long passes from defence were again a feature of Darlington’s play, with Armstrong and Amar Purewal the targets with the latter when his fair share of aerial duels.
Armstrong won plenty of high balls in the penalty area, but too often he failed to trouble Gibson. He headed harmlessly wide, getting underneath the ball after Watson had dinked a cross in, and was also off target after good work by his strike-partner.
Purewal nicked ball of the keeper close to the edge of the penalty area, turned and fired the ball into the six-yard box where Armstrong headed wide.
Cables keeper Gibson then showed strong hands to push away Armstrong’s close-range header after the striker met Watson’s cross, though the assistant referee had raised a flag for offside.
Darlington’s momentum faded as the half progressed, they were not as lively in attack, but remained largely untroubled at the back as defence looked solid, little getting beyond Hunter and the imperious Alan White.
Just before the break there was time for Armstrong to again fail to score with his head, narrowly wide after a Gary Brown delivery from the right, and there was nice build-up play up the right involving Mitchell and Brown that ended in a Scott shot being deflected for a corner.
Adam Mitchell almost scored direct from a corner, his inswinger being punched off the line by Cables keeper Ciaran Gibson, A set-piece again provides a near miss for Darlington, this time Gibson showing sharp reactions to push away Purewal’s effort from inside the six-yard box after meeting Mitchell’s corner.
Armstrong was replaced on the hour by Liam Hatch, and the substitute almost scored with his first touch, his downward header being fumbled and eventually cleared by the always-involved Gibson.
The keeper was seeing as much of the ball as anybody on the pitch, although he had captain James McCulloch to thank for deflecting wide Jordan Robinson’s volley from inside the penalty area.
However, from the corner, taken by Galbraith, Darlington doubled their lead.
It was 2-0 when White evaded his marker by running to the near post and glancing the ball home on 64 minutes for a deserved two-goal advantage.
And White should’ve made it 3-0. The defender headed wide from close to goal after meeting a Mitchell corner.
There was a Prescot penalty appeal when White tangled with Rob Doran as the striker waited for the ball to drop to him. The referee said play on, much to Quakers’ relief.
There was a scare for Darlington when a rising shot by substitute Mark McLoughlin was pushed over the bar Jameson, who may have had the sun in his eyes, but that was as close to goal as the hosts got in the latter stages, during which Robinson suffered a suspected broken cheekbone and visited a hospital in the North-East on Saturday evening.
Quakers closed out the game to take over at the top ahead of Wednesday’s game with Ossett Albion at Heritage Park, although Salford play 24 hours earlier against Brighouse.
Goals: Scott (8, 1-0), White (64, 2-0)
Prescot Cables (4-4-2): Gibson; Griffiths, McCulloch, Shinks, O’Reilly; Gardner (Prince 65), Phillips, Bannister, Corlett, Ryan (West 82); Doran (McLoughlin 82). Subs (not used): Stoker, Hont
Darlington (4-4-2): Jameson; Brown, White, Hunter, Watson; A Mitchell, Scott, Robinson, Galbraith (Cocks 72); Armstrong (Hatch 58), Purewal (Pennal 87). Subs (not used): Thompson, Farley (gk)
Match Report courtesy of the Northern Echo.