Darlington are only halfway through the season, but they are already facing a must-win game, believes manager Martin Gray.

Two successive defeats means that second-place Spennymoor Town are only four points behind top-of-the-table Quakers with four games in hand.

And with Moors visiting Heritage Park on Wednesday, Gray has made his players aware how crucial it is that they win at Durham City today.

A failure to take their chances has led to losses against Team Northumbria and Newton Aycliffe, and Gray said: "We’ve got to get back to winning ways, it’s as simple as that. It’s a must-win game on Saturday.

"We’ve got to treat the game like a cup final and we need to take the game to the opposition.

"We’ve talked with the players about starting games better, although having said that, we have been doing it recently. In the last three or four games, we’ve been starting well but not taking our chances.

"You analyse the performance when you come away from the game, and there wasn’t an awful lot wrong apart from the fact we didn’t take our chances.

"It used to be the case that we were not as good in the first half compared to the second half of games, but we’ve changed that.

"The goals and the results will come as long as we keep put in good performances - we just need to cut out the basic mistakes."

Being caught out by long balls cost Quakers two goals last week at Aycliffe, so Gray addressed the issue during training this week.

“We’ve got to defend better as a team - we need to cut out the daft mistakes,” he said. “We weren’t broken down by good play, it was our own basic mistakes that cost us in the past two games.

"We had a meeting at the training ground on Wednesday for a good 20 minutes. We talked through things, went through matters on the board and then we took it outside and had a practice match.

"The response from the players was great. What’s good about this group of players is that they want to learn and they want to listen, which is great for me. None of them think they know better.

"We were training for a good two hours - we were out until 9.30pm - and had a match against the youth team. It was good to involve them because their education is important as well.”

Durham play on an artificial surface, meaning the game is likely to go ahead no matter what the weather.

Gray pointed out: "A few of our lads were at Durham last year so they know what the pitch is about. They’ll hopefully know how to play it, because it is different, definitely."

Gary Brown, Amar Purewal, David Dowson and Stephen Thompson all moved to Quakers from Durham.T

hompson scored four goals for the Citizens before joining Darlington in September, but under the terms of his transfer he was not permitted to play when the teams met later that month when Darlington won 3-1.

There is no such restriction today, however, there will be at least one change as former West Auckland goalkeeper Mark Bell replaces Jack Norton who has been released.

Bell is not the only new addition as Gray yesterday brought in forward Michael Sweet on loan for a month from Gateshead.

The teenager, who is from Darlington, is available today as Gray seeks a reaction to losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Striker Jamie Clarke could make another appearance today. He joined Evo-Stick League side Whitby soon after the season started, but was a substitute for Quakers last Saturday as Darlington had retained his Northern League registration.

Durham are 19th having lost three of their past six league matches, one of which was a 3-2 defeat at home to Spennymoor.

Manager Adam Furness said: "We're really looking forward to Saturday. First and foremost it's another opportunity to get points on the table, but with the quality of players Darlington will bring - some of them ex Durham- it will be another measure of exactly how far we've come.

"We certainly competed with Spennymoor, so we know that if we perform to our best we'll have a good chance of getting something. If we don’t, and consistency has been an issue for us of late, then I'm sure we'll be in for a tough time.

"Our players will relish playing in front of a big crowd and as with the Spennymoor game, I think it will be another great example of the high standard of football in the Northern League."

Durham will be without centre-back Dan Madden and defender Steve Jones because of injury, while striker Gary Shaw is expected to pass a fitness test, but yesterday they signed striker Peter Ravenhill on loan from Gateshead.