SALFORD CITY have sealed a play-off spot with a 5-1 win over Darlington in their final game of the Vanarama National League North season.
With a chance at a third successive promotion on the cards, one could have forgiven the Salford players had they shown signs of nerves early on in the game.
Any such worries were quickly dispelled however as the match quickly settled into a pattern of Salford attacks.
The first goal came after 8 minutes when a freekick curled in by Walker from the right dropped to Grand in space at the near post.
He finished calmly into the bottom right corner for 1-0.
Darlington’s best chances in the game came shortly after and for a while it looked like the Ammies might be pushed all the way.
After 14 minutes Darlington’s winger Josh Gillies found himself in acres of space inside the Salford box, but his shot was blocked and the red’s successfully cleared.
The chance was a sign of the threat Darlington could pose given an opportunity.
Six minutes later when presented with a similar chance, Darlington’s Mark Beck didnt’ miss.
A somewhat weak long shot deflected to him in the Salford box and he exploited the space to great effect, finding the far corner.
Rather than changing the flow of play however, Salford rallied and were two ahead before the break.
The pattern of Salford’s play became clear. Every single throw in within range of Darlington’s box was launched in by Josh Hine, giving Mike Phenix and the rest something to attack.
28 minutes in, one such long throw was flicked on to Phenix at the far post. Totally unmarked, he could only direct his header straight at Adam Bartlett in goal.
Thankfully for Salford, it didn’t take long to regain the lead they deserved.
Another long throw by Hine on 37 minutes was turned into the Darlington net by their own player Gary Brown.
Then only three minutes later it was 3-1. Michael Nottingham nodded in a corner from no more than two yards.
The first half ended with Salford well on top and their dominance continued in the second half. Darlington simply could not deal with the pace of Salford’s play.
The Ammies could have had four more goals within the first ten minutes after the break.
— Craig Dootson (@gkdoots1) April 29, 2017
On 50 minutes a break down the left saw Mike Phenix slip in Hulme, but his shot was well saved at the near post.
A minute later history largely repeated itself, only this time Hulme’s shot was blocked.
The resultant corner led to a Hulme header, acrobatically saved by Bartlett in Darlington’s net.
Salford’s relentless pressure eventually paid dividends though, and after 53 minutes it was 4-1.
Another Walker corner was headed in by an unmarked Horsfall at the far post, for his first goal in Salford red.
By this point it was simply a case of how many, such was Salford’s dominance.
With 65 minutes gone Walker missed a penalty high and wide after Phenix was pulled down inside the box.
In the final quarter of the game Salford’s intensity dropped, but the chances still came.
With 13 minutes to go, Salford substitute Richie Allen anticipated a back pass but was pushed wide before he could get a shot away.
His pull back found David Norris, who’s shot was blocked by a scrambling Darlington defender.
In the 80th minute Norris got another chance and this time the ball found the back of the net.
His shot from just outside the box took a heavy deflection, causing the ball to loop over a helpless Bartlett for Salford’s fifth.
What a win to end the season! Great atmosphere throughout.. We go Again in the Play Off's @SalfordCityFC ⚽️👏🏼
— Jay Lynch (@JayLynchy) April 29, 2017
After the match, joint manager Bernard Morley said the win was a “complete performance.”
He said: “We was dominating every area of the pitch and that’s what we set out to do today.”
The win means Salford finish the season in fourth place with 77 points.
They will now play Halifax Town over two legs for a spot in the play-off final, and a chance at a third successive promotion.
Salford: Lynch, Nottingham, O’Halloran, Grand (C), Horsfall, Walker (Haughton 66′), Hulme (Barnes 66′), Johnston (Allen 62′), Phenix, Norris, Hine (Subs: Priestley, Barnes, King, Haughton, Allen)
Darlington: Bartlett, Marrs, Ferguson, Turnbull (C) (Falkingham 54′), Hunter, Brown, Thompson, Syers (Scott 54′), Beck, Cartman (Saunders 68′), Gillies (Subs: Scott, Falkingham, Saunders, Wearmouth, Wilczynski)