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Gray expects tough test
After snow wiped out last weekend's game, Darlington return to action today with a trip up the A1 to a rejuvenated Newcastle Benfield.
And their opponents will provide a sterner test than their lowly position suggests, predicts manager Martin Gray.
They are only one place above Quakers' previous opponents, Penrith, who came close to holding Darlington to a draw last time out.
Ten days ago at Heritage Park, only a Terry Galbraith penalty five minutes from time separated the sides after the Cumbrians' game-plan saw them defend in numbers and almost snatch a point.
Gray, again without injured Craig Gott today, is well aware of the threat the 20th-placed Tynesiders will pose.
"Steve Bowey has been there for five games and he has them well organised. We've had them watched and that's what the feedback was, that they're well organised and keep their shape,'' he said.
"Since the new manager has gone in, they've won their past two games, so they've picked up and will give us a tough game."
Benfield have kept four clean sheets in their past six games, a record to rival Darlington's, whose own defensive record has improved since goalkeeper Mark Bell came into the side.
Bell has conceded in only three of his nine appearances, but Gray expects him to be tested today.
"I don't think Newcastle will play like Penrith," he said. "I think Steve Bowey's a lot more attack-minded manager and he's got players who will have a go at us."
Benfield have lost only one of their last six fixtures in all competitions.
Bowey said: "We had a great result on Tuesday against South Shields, which was a game we had to win to avoid getting sucked really deep into the relegation battle, and the points mean that we go into the Darlington game full of confidence.
"We know we've got a tough task because Martin Gray has got them well-organised and well-drilled.
"We've got nothing to lose, we've picked up some good wins over the last few weeks. The pressure is on them, because they still need points on the board, so they've got to come at us. One slip and Spennymoor will be there."
While Darlington have improved defensively of late, in attack they have been among the goals all season, especially in recent away games.
Gray's side have scored at least three goals in each of their past six games on the road, 26 in total.
"We want to play attacking, exciting football, and we like to score," added Gray, whose team's next goal will be their 100th of the campaign.
"Penrith was difficult, but had we scored early we would've given them a stuffing.
"We got a 1-0 win, but we've scored threes and fours and even a couple of sevens.
"I'm an attack-minded manager and I like to excite the crowd."
Today's game represents the beginning of a spell of six games in three weeks, with Darlington playing at Heritage Park on each of the next three Wednesdays.
Though the schedule does not compare with third-placed Spennymoor Town, who must play ten league and cup games during a 22-day spell in March, Gray does not possess a squad as large as Moors.
But the manager expects his players to relish the demands of playing regularly in the coming weeks.
He said: "We haven't got a big squad, but the first eight-ten players pick themselves every week at the moment.
"That's good for me because it means they all know each other's games, they are familiar with each other, so that's a big help.
"As players, when we're in the position we're in, you want to play football as often as you can.
"As long as you can keep them fit and focused and keep the right attitude then it's not a problem.
"You'd rather be playing all these games with something to play for instead of being stuck in the middle of the table or even fighting to stay up."
Benfield keeper Andy Grainger is suspended, so Jake Cunningham replaces him.
* Former Darlington manager Mark Cooper was yesterday named as assistant boss to new Swindon Town manager Kevin MacDonald.
Cooper had only been in charge at AFC Telford since January 31.