Darlington 0, York City 2

YORK CITY have returned to the top of the National League North table after a pair of fine strikes from Alex Kempster and Paddy McLaughlin earned them a hard-fought 2-0 win at Darlington.

Having drawn three of their last four league matches, there were questions being asked of York’s near-perfect start.

And while this was far from a one-sided victory, it’s a win which reaffirms top spot.

Further still it maintains York’s impeccable record as the division’s best defence.

It’s a result that serves to underline the incredible turnaround brought about by manager Steve Watson too.

On Boxing Day last year, City were thrashed by 5-1 here at Blackwell Meadows, with Sam Collins losing his job the following month.

Just four players from the York team that started that day began this game.

While the scoreline may suggest a comfortable City win, it was Darlington who came closest to opening the scoring – and it almost came in spectacular fashion.

Stephen Thompson conjured some space just past the centre circle marking in the York half and, having caught City goalkeeper Peter Jameson, audaciously attempted a chipped an effort which flew just inches over the crossbar.

Moments later, Will Hatfield exchanged passes on the edge of the area with Adam Campbell before slicing an effort into the stands.

Chances were hardly flowing and it wasn’t until the mid-point of the half that Darlington keeper Chris Elliott was forced into meaningful action.

He didn’t deal with it well either. Kieran Green won a header as the pair jumped for a loose ball and as City looked to scramble it goal-bound, the hosts managed to clear.

Captain Steve McNulty and striker Dan Maguire were ruled out before the game through injury and, after 25 minutes, Green joined them, forced off with Macaulay Langstaff taking his place.

York chances were at a premium by that point, however, like red buses, three suddenly came in as many minutes.

Langstaff had the first when he fired the ball well wide and high from Jordan Burrow’s clever pass.

Then, the best of the lot. The always lively David Ferguson whipped a low delivery across the face of goal, Burrow inches away from prodding home.

Substitute Langstaff was once again involved, latching onto another Burrow pass before having the effort blocked. Significantly though, the striker had been down hurt seconds earlier and had evidently felt the effects of that as he struck towards goal.

There was time for one last chance before the half-time whistle – a long kick by Jameson cleared the home side’s backline with Langstaff racing onto it before hitting it into the arms of Elliott.

Goalless it remained as the sides went to the changing rooms.

It took just seven minutes from the restart for the game’s best chance to be witnessed.

Darlington’s top-scorer Campbell took a quick free-kick, catching the York defence off guard, and a first-time pass from Thompson sent through Jarrett Rivers whose trickling shot beat Jameson and, to the relief of City fans, found only the base of a post.

Ruthlessly, York soon made them pay.

Nathan Dyer showed persistence to win the ball against his full-back on the right flank before Langstaff collected and found Kempster of the edge of the area.

Kempster made no mistake with the finish, controlling it neatly before firing it beyond Elliott’s reach and into the far right corner for his sixth goal this term.

Darlington responded well to the goal and the lively Campbell continued to look to be their danger man.

A foul on Thompson gave him a free-kick in a favourable position and he whipped agonisingly wide of the far post.

They remained the aggressors as the game entered its final quarter of an hour, with substitute Michael Liddle causing all sorts of problems with his deliveries from the left flank.

With 10 minutes left, Campbell once again looked to steal the headlines.

Joe Wheatley’s skewed shot bundled into his pass and while he threw himself at the ball, he couldn’t direct it into Jameson’s goal.

But, with a couple of minutes left, City sealed the points, doing so in style.

Elliott punched a corner clear only as far as the edge of the penalty area, allowing McLaughlin to send a sumptuous side-footed volley into the top right corner.

It was a strike good enough to win any game and from there, there was no coming back for Darlington.

York: Jameson 7, Dyer 8 (York 6 80), Ferguson 7, Newton 7, Spratt 7, Tait 7, Moke 6, McLaughlin 7 (King 6 88) Green 6 (Langstaff 8, 25), Kempster 8, Burrow 7. Subs not used: Whitley, McFarlane.

Goals: Kempster (58), McLaughlin (88).

Yellow cards: Spratt.

Star man: Alex Kempster. His moment of class with the goal proved decisive, edging him to the title ahead of his assister Macauley Langstaff, who also deserves a mention.

Darlington: Elliott, Hedley, Watson, Wheatley, Laing (Liddle 56), Galbraith, Rivers, Hatfield, Thompson, Holness (Donawa 69), Campbell. Subs not used: Bell, Bascome, Holliday.

Yellow cards: Hedley, Wheatley.

Attendance: 2,023.

Referee: Paul Brown.