Gray focuses on football

First published in Sport Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy Sports Editor

After a week when off-the-field issues took hold, Darlington manager Martin Gray is relieved to be able to focus on football again today.

His team travel to Carlisle to face Celtic Nation at the end of a week when controversy over offensive comments made on social media provided an unwelcome backdrop to back-to-back-defeats for the first time this season.

A league loss at West Auckland, only Quakers' second of the season, was followed by a midweek Northern League Cup defeat to Spennymoor

Darlington responded to their only other league reverse, at Guisborough in September, by winning 13 successive matches and Gray wants a similar reaction, starting today.

"It's about making sure we're focused and there'll be no distractions on Saturday, which will be nice," said Gray, still frustrated that Gary Brown and Stephen Thompson have been reported to the Durham FA by a West Auckland club official over their conduct. We're ready to bounce back.

"Last Saturday I was delighted with the first half performance because we could've been three or 4-0.

"I've got to reflect on the positives, that's what I do, and it's about how you react.

"After Guisborough we went on a fantastic tun and that's what we're looking to do now and to kick on again."

Darlington's defeat at West, combined with Spennymoor's win at Marske, cut Quakers' lead at the top of the Northern League to four points, though Gray's men have an opportunity extend their lead today as Moors are in FA Vase action.

Gray's team face another stiff test today, though. While only 13th, that is partly due to Celtic Nation playing fewer games than any other club in the division.

They have recovered from a slow start and are now unbeaten in their past six league and cup games.

Gray said: "We want to put in a massive performance, a real hard-working display and hopefully we'll come away with the points.

"Celtic have picked up as the season has gone on and they were always going to because of the squad they have.

"They have a massive playing budget and fantastic financial support.

"They're able to pay a lot of money to get players over from the North-East to Cumbria, which I find to accept why players would choose to do that, but they do and it's going to be a tough game.

"They're really well managed because they've got a good young manager who's got big ambitions so we'll treat them with the utmost respect."

Their boss is player-manager Steve Skinner, who said: "The lads have shown that they are up to the task if called upon to come into the squad. There is a good team spirit at the moment."

Having made nine changes for Wednesday's game, Gray will make a similar amount today.

Centre-back Carl Jones made his debut versus Spennymoor, but he will not travel while fellow defender Arjun Purewal has joined Whitby Town on loan.

The hosts will include former Darlington players Paul Arnison, Nathan Porritt and Jeff Smith, while Graeme Lee and Dan Lowson are also with the Cumbrians.

Defender James Earl is suspended, while midfielder Tyran Taylor is working and three players, Lee and strikers Michael Reed and Dean Douglas, will all have fitness tests.

Skinner is assisted by veteran manager Tony Lee, 64, who had a brief spell as a player at Quakers in 1968.

Meanwhile, in light of the criticism West Auckland received for their price hike, Celtic Nation have explained the reasoning behind putting admission from to £4 to £5.

Skinner said: "The reason why it is an extra £1 is because we have hired ten stewards and made an over spill car park for fans from Darlo on the facility plus extra staff in kitchen, one more turnstile to be open, and needed extra help as we have only four or six committee members for a match day.

"We are just new to this and learning all the time with a small committee and club."

* Darlington's home league game with Spennymoor has been arranged for Wednesday, December 19. They meet at the Brewery Field on Friday, February 15.

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