Three years since their last FA Cup tie, Darlington today return to the prestigious knockout competition with the hope of enjoying an extended run.
November 2011 and a tie with Hinckley United represents Quakers’ last Cup outing, though since the summer of 2012 the Football Association have prohibited the club from taking part in the competition.
Now into their third season of a new era, Darlington enter the competition at the preliminary round stage with the short trip to West Auckland.
There was friction between the clubs during 2012-13, when West doubled admission prices for Quakers’ visit to Darlington Road, leading to a boycott of the game by many.
But there will be a healthy crowd of around 1,000 and manager Martin Gray anticipates a more cordial welcome today as former Sunderland team-mate Anth Smith was this week appointed West manager.
He and David Rush, also formerly of Roker Park, replace Peter Dixon and assistant Paul Foster, who resigned earlier this month.
Gray said: “It’s good to see Anth getting the job and I know we’ll get a warm welcome there. I know he’ll do well there and he’s the right man to take that club forward, because he has a professional way of doing things.
“Obviously, we go a long way back. We were young lads together at Sunderland, Brian Atkinson was there at the same time, so we all know each other well.
“He tried to do a bit of business with me for one of my players when he was Gateshead manager. It didn’t happen, but we can now look forward to a good relationship with West.”
Unlike some of the cup competitions which Quakers are required to play in, Gray holds the Cup in high esteem and would relish an extend run.
“It’s good to be back in the FA Cup after a few years out of it,” said Gray, whose team defeated nine-man Kendal Town 7-0 on Monday.
“At whatever level of the game you’re at, you want to play in the Cup. It’s still special and it’s a chance to win some prize money.
“It’ll be my first Cup game as manager and I’m looking forward to it.”
Whoever wins will in the next round be at home to Blyth Spartans on September 13, and Darlington go into the encounter in good form.
“I’ve been delighted with the start to the season,” said Gray. “We had an indifferent pre-season with players coming back from injury and players being on holiday, but since the season started we’ve won three games out of four if you take the Warrington game into account.
“I think we’ll get the points from that game, I’m sure we will, so that will be ten points out of ten.
“People might say we were only playing against nine men on Monday, but we still had to break them down, they put everyone apart from a striker behind the ball and we still had to get through their defence and midfield.
“We got a few goals and kept another clean sheet, so there we could not have much more.”
Gray rested four players against Kendal, but Gary Brown, Leon Scott and Graeme Armstrong are all likely to return to the line-up today.
Former York City midfielder Adam Reed is a contender to make way.
The manager added: “He’s had a couple of trials in the summer, but he’s not had a proper pre-season and he needs minutes on the pitch.
“His background is impressive when you look at where he’s played before. He did okay on Monday, he got through it, but he needs more game time.”
Smith, meanwhile, says his team are second favourites.
“We’re going into the game as big underdogs,” said Smith, whose previous managerial job was at Gateshead. “Martin has put together a very good team that is used to playing at a higher level.
“Today gives me a chance to see what my players are like, but there’s always the possibility of pulling off a shock. West had some good results last season in the FA Cup, so maybe we can do the same again.”
West defeated three Evo-Stik League clubs last season on their way to the third qualifying round before they lost to Hednesford.
Striker Jordan Laidler is almost certainly ruled out because of injury.
Meanwhile, Steve Skinner who was in caretaker charge for two games, has left.