Harrison straight back into the fray

9:00am Saturday 21st December 2013

By Craig Stoddart

Stephen Harrison slots into the Darlington side today after making a welcome return to the club from Durham City.

The experienced right-back returned to Quakers this week and played in the abandoned friendly on Wednesday at Heritage Park against Sunderland.

He was at centre-back for that fixture, earmarked as a farewell to striker Steven Johnson, but will return to his usual right-back slot today when Martin Gray's promotion-chasers travel to Burscough in Lancashire.

Harrison was a regular when Darlington won the Northern League title last season and fans were left disappointed when he departed to join Durham City due to work commitments.

Gray, however, has explained that Harrison is now available so has returned to Heritage Park for the second half of the season.

"He'll bring that experience to the team that we need," said Gray. "He's been there and done it. He knows what the club is about and we didn't want to let him go last season, it was only due to work commitments that he had to leave.

"That position has changed now so it's easier for him to make away games. He works in the academy as a part-time coach at Sunderland Football Club.

"But he's got over those hurdles now and we're pleased to have him back on board. He comes straight into the team."

Harrison replaces Bruno Pilatos, who had made the right-back slot his own after joining in September.

He was released on Thursday, as was fellow former Middlesbrough youth team player Curtis Edwards, who lost his place in the team recently, starting only one of their last five league matches.

Gray explained: "He needed to move to play football, simple as that."

Their exits leave Darlington light on numbers and Gray will draft in youth team players David Mitchell, Matty Lovegreen and James Coatsworth to bolster his squad today.

They will fight for places on the bench and Gray is far from reluctant to hand the talented teenagers a route to the first team.

He said: "Fifteen players, that's all we've got, 15 players. But we've got a good youth system and one or two will come with us on Saturday.

"They've done very well this season and we're a lot stronger than last year. They've got a year's experience under their belt, they've had more exposure to the first team, so I'm more than happy for them to be in and around the squad."

Fourth-placed Darlington are looking to close the gap on leaders Warrington, who lost again last Saturday and in a fortnight have seen their advantage over Quakers shrink from 11 to five points.

Burscough are 14th and have won their last two games, against New Mills and Northwich Victoria, which ended a miserable run of seven fixtures without a win.

Today's game is the first of five matches in 15 days, with three being at Heritage Park. Quakers are at their Bishop Auckland base on Boxing Day against Wakefield, and two days later entertain Salford City.

New Year's Day sees a trip to Kendal then Quakers play Clitheroe on Saturday, January 4, at Heritage Park.

* Darlington' game at Radcliffe Borough has been rearranged for Saturday, February 22.

The original fixture was scheduled for September 11, but was postponed due to Radcliffe's involvement in a Manchester Premier Cup tie.


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