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Gray closing in on half century
After reaching one proud landmark last weekend, Darlington manager Martin Gray can achieve another with a win today against Prescot Cables.
Victory at Heritage Park would give Gray a half-century of wins since becoming Quakers' boss last year, when he was tasked with winning promotion from the Northern League.
Game number 60 was a 6-1 victory at Ossett Town in the FA Trophy seven days ago, one of four cup ties during a tenure in which league fixtures have been paramount for a club with aims to return to the Football League.
Promotion last year was achieved with 40 victories, and a further seven in the Evo-Stik First Division, plus cup wins over Harton & Westoe and Ossett Town, gives Gray a win ratio of 81.66 per cent.
Though proud of his record, the manager is keen to share the plaudits, saying: "All managers like to win as many games as they can, but it's not as easy as that. To have that win ratio is excellent, but it's not just down to me because there are a lot of reasons why we've won so many games.
"I've got a great team off the pitch, which helps the team on the pitch.
"Everybody has an input. From the coaching staff, the kitman, the physio, everybody is involved and it's about what we do as a team.
"When it goes wrong I get the criticism and when it goes right I get the accolades, but sometimes the people behind the scenes don't get enough credit. I work very closely with every member of staff at the club.
"The record is something to be proud of. Having said that, this is still the start of the journey."
More significant than a win ratio is winning points and three today would keep Quakers top of the table ahead of Monday's trip to second-placed Curzon Ashton.
The teams are separated by goal difference alone, though Kendal are a point behind, while Curzon play in the FA Cup today.
"This is when your squad comes into play, but I'm not thinking about Monday's game too much yet, we've got a game on Saturday first," added Gray.
"I don't look at stats, the only thing I look at is the next couple of games, making sure your scout is going to see your next opposition to get the right information on them.
"You don't look too far ahead in terms of fixtures and you're always looking ahead regarding recruiting players."
One player Gray recruited this week is Alan White, while the futures of Bruno Pilatos and Curtis Edwards were yesterday secured when they signed 18-month contracts.
White has joined on a permanent basis having been on loan since last month and has formed a solid partnership at centre-back with Chris Hunter, a switch that has coincided with three consecutive wins.
Their partnership is not the only feature of the team that has pleased Gray, who said: "We've had three big wins and the team looks settled now and that helps.
"We've got Alan White's experience at the back and he's helping Bruno at right-back. He's alongside Chrissy Hunter and they've formed a really good partnership. The same goes for the two in midfield, Curtis and Leon Scott.
"It's given Leon a new lease of life, putting him back into midfield, he's got some real power and is like a minder for young Curtis. You need a blend, you can't have two footballers in there, but you also can't have two tacklers.
"That partnership is looking good and so is the one up top, Amar Purewal and David Dowson."
Pairing Hunter with White has resulted in dropping Jordan Robinson, and Gray admits he had tough choices to make after losing 3-0 at Ramsbottom.
He said: "You've got to make big decisions. Players have been left out and the players that have come in have responded well. That's what competition for places is about. You've got to put your neck on the block and make those kind of decisions.
"It would have been easy to give people another chance, but it's my job to look at it and change things if I have to."
Gray will have another tough decision when Nathan Fisher finally receives international clearance.
The striker has been in limbo for three weeks since signing from a club in Thailand, and Quakers are powerless while they await the respective football authorities from each nation to deal with the matter.