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Marske hoping for bumper crowd as Quakers return to action
Marske United are hoping today's visit of Darlington will attract a club record crowd as both teams make a long-awaited return to action.
A series of postponements due to the weather decimated the Ebac Northern League during January, creating a backlog that will mean two-games-a-week for the remainder of much of the campaign.
The fixture would have been Quakers' first at Heritage Park since December 19, while today's fixture will be Marske's first on home soil since December 15, when they recorded a fine win against Bedlington Terriers.
The attendance was 146 at the GER Stadium that day, while Marske's record crowd - 1,359 - was also against Bedlington.
Against Darlington, who have averaged well over 1,300 at home games, Marske chairman Peter Collinson is hoping for a bumper crowd.
"This is a big game for Marske and I am hoping it attracts a record crowd," he said.
"The club have gone that extra mile by producing commemorative scarves for the day as a souvenir, as well as promoting what a family club Marske United really are.
"With Middlesbrough away, I am hoping Boro supporters turn up in force and cheer the lads on."
Today's game is the second meeting of the sides this season, with Quakers having won 3-0 at Heritage Park back in August, which was the same scoreline when Darlington played against South Shields on a boggy Filtrona Park pitch.
Collinson, who says today's game is not under threat, describes Marske's playing surface as a "little heavy in places".
Despite the pitch, manager Martin Gray admits Darlington should have added more to their tally at Filtrona Park.
He said: "The scoreline should have been much higher. We could've been more clinical in front of goal and scored five or six goals, no problem.
"Their keeper made a couple of great saves to keep it at 1-0 for a while but we can't continue to create as many chances as we did in that match and only win 3-0.
"Sooner or later a team is going to get a real good thumping!
"The pitch wasn't good but we just had to plough through it. We still got the ball down and passed it. I was delighted with the way we played and controlled the game, it was a great performance from start to finish."
Craig Gott was on the sidelines for that match but he returns at centre-back in place of captain Gary Brown, who will finally serve the one-match ban he collected back in December for accumulating five yellow cards.
As an integral part of Gray's team, Darlington will do well to cope without Brown's influence today.
He is a leader on the pitch and a vocal member of the dressing room, which maintains a strong team spirit, as evidenced last Saturday when the squad helped clear snow from the Heritage Park pitch.
The players also spent time together recently during a team bonding day, something Brown says was good for morale.
"Instead of going training we had a team bonding day, which included stuff like quad biking, boxing and clay pigeon shooting.
"We started by going to a boxing gym that belongs to one of Stevie Johnson's mates. I tell you what, we think that we're quite fit as footballers, but boxers have to be fitter than us. We did a boxer's warm up for an hour, doing circuits and that sort of thing, and we were absolutely knackered.
"Leon Scott was really good at boxing. If he wasn't a footballer, he'd be a fighter! I know Jonny Davis won't be a boxer, he tripped over one of the ropes and fell flat on his face.
Then, after we'd done the boxing, we went to a farmhouse near Stockton, and did some clay pigeon shooting. David Dowson got 19 out of 20 - I just hope he can transfer his striking rate to the football pitch!
"It was a great day. The craic was really good and it certainly helped us get to know each other better.
"The players want to reward everybody by winning a lot of matches between now and the end of the season, whenever that may be."
There are two former Darlington youth team players at Marske, John Alexander and David Wells, who are managed by Ted Watts.
"Darlington have been great for this league and their level of support after what's happened is amazing," he said. "Darlington are clear favourites, but we've been slowly improving since I took over.
"The pitch will be heavy, and that should be a bit of a leveller. The fact that there will be around 1,500 people in the ground is self-motivating for our players.
"There is great interest in the town for this game."