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Quakers ready for Moors’ meeting
Darlington and Spennymoor Town have been leading the way all season in the Ebac Northern League and meet tonight for a match on which much is riding.
Both clubs have informed the Football Association of their intention to accept the single promotion place to the Evo-Stik League on offer at the end of the season, as have Bishop Auckland and Celtic Nation.
But with third-placed West Auckland currently 18 points behind the top position, it is difficult to look beyond Quakers and Moors for the title.
Managers of both sides say the pressure is on the opposition to win this evening at Heritage Park (7.30pm).
Martin Gray, Darlington boss, said: "We've had them watched an awful lot and Spennymoor are a good team - that's why they're champions.
"They've won the league for the past three seasons so the pressure's on them to win it again."
But Moors' Jason Ainsley said: "It will be a very good game. The pressure is on them, it's a game they need to win. We go there full of confidence, and they'll have to be at their best to beat us.
"It's first versus second in front of a big crowd that is almost unprecedented for the Northern League in recent years.
"The game won't decide where the league title will go at the end of the season. There'll be plenty of twists and turns over the rest of the season, and even if we win, we won't be getting carried away. The league has never been won in December.
"It's important that we believe in ourselves, as a team and as a group of playing staff."
Darlington stretched their advantage over Spennymoor to seven points with a win at Durham City on Saturday.
Having lost their previous two games to teams in the bottom half of the table - Team Northumbria and Newton Aycliffe - they looked in good shape during a 4-0 win.
They have lost four games in total, but Moors are yet to lose in the league, winning 17 of 19 matches, while Ainsley's side are arguably better-placed with five games in hand.
Spennymoor's cup commitments have taken precedence including on Saturday when they reached the fourth round of the FA Vase thanks to a 2-0 win over Billingham Synthonia, both goals from Gavin Cogdon.
He was an unused sub as Moors defeated Darlington 2-0 in the Northern League Cup last month when both sides made a number of changes for a match which drew a crowd of 683 - more than twice as many will be present this evening.
"It'll be a big attendance and we'll need a good atmosphere with all of the support behind us," added Gray.
"We need to make sure it feels like a home game and make it a really big occasion. It's a massive game - people have said that it's the biggest game of the season.''
Gray last night made three additions to his squad: Jonny Davis from Hebburn Town and Sunderland youngsters Johnny Burn and Nathan Thomas.
Davis, a former Durham midfielder, impressed when playing against Darlington in the Durham Challenge Cup earlier this season, scoring a penalty in a 3-0 win.
Burn is a right-sided defender and Thomas is a left-sided midfielder. All are available this evening.
Moors are without suspended midfielder Lewis Dodds, but defender Leon Ryan is added to the squad, winger Craig Ruddy returns and striker Glen Taylor is back at the Brewery Field after a spell with Ashington.
Ainsley and assistant Gavin Fell watched Darlington's defeat to Aycliffe ten days ago, and he added: "Darlington have done tremendously well since they came into the league and we've been hanging on to their shirttails while they've been playing league games and we've been in cup competitions.
"We can't knock Darlington for what they've done so far this season. Other people around the league are knocking them - we've had that for the last three seasons."
* The game is not all-ticket and supporters can pay on the gate.