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Quakers to field strong side in Johnson’s final match
Darlington manager Martin Gray will pay a compliment to Steven Johnson this evening by fielding a full-strength side for his farewell match versus Sunderland.
Despite the festive fixtures beginning on Saturday - promotion-chasing Quakers will play five games in 15 days - Gray wants to give the striker the farewell he deserves by treating the game seriously.
The fixture at Heritage Park (7.30pm ko) will be Johnson's last for his hometown team as he is leaving the Evo-Stik First Division North club due to work commitments.
But he leaves as a crowd favourite having played a key role during the club's campaign in the Northern League last season, scoring 15 goals in 29 appearances, most of which were from the bench.
And in a nod to those super-sub appearances, the 32-year-old will again be on the bench this evening for a match Gray hopes will see a good turn out of supporters.
"It's going to be a proud night for Stevie and his family and he deserves a good crowd," said Gray, whose fourth-placed team head to Burscough on Saturday.
"He deserves a lot of respect for what he has done for this club.
"I've worked with a lot of players during my playing career and in management, and he is one of the most loyal and genuine lads that I've come across.
"It's been a pleasure to have him at the club - I'd like to thank him for everything that he has done and wish him well for the future."
Johnson has said he may sign for a Northern League club in the future, but tonight will be his final opportunity to score in a black and white shirt, which is something he has done twice this season in 13 appearances, 11 being as a sub.
The number of senior players in the Black Cats XI will be affected by them having played against Chelsea last night in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup.
Gray, who was at the match, was due to speak to Sunderland's coaching staff after the game to ascertain what sort of line-up they will send to Heritage Park.
Among those that could be involved are Edilson Cabral, El-Hadji Ba, Charis Mavrias and Modibo Diakite.
Admission prices this evening are £6 adults, £4 concessions and £2 children.
* Quakers supporters are reminded that, because there will be no service buses running on Boxing Day, the Darlington Supporters Trust bus will be have additional pick-up points for the game at Heritage Park against Wakefield.
Pick up points are 1.40pm North Road (bus stop south of Bensham Road); North Road (bus stop south of Thompson Street East); North Road (bus stop opposite Morrisons); 2pm Dolphin Centre; 2.10pm Cockerton Library; 2.15pm West Auckland Road (bus stop opposite Westgate Crescent).
Due to increased operating costs on Boxing Day, bus tickets will be £6 for adults and £4 for juniors and seats need to be reserved by December 23 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, texting 07808-900031 or calling in at Quaker Retail in the covered market, Darlington.