Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DST to 80360 or email us
Quakers to ring the changes at Dunston
After handing most of his players a rare free week, Darlington manager Martin Gray will field a strong line-up when Quakers bid to stay top of the table when they travel to Dunston today.
Although Quakers had a match on Tuesday, in the Durham Challenge Cup, Gray took the opportunity to rest the bulk of his first-choice XI by making eight changes for the match at Hebburn Town.
They were further weakened when goalkeeper Chris Porter was sent off for conceding an early penalty, which Hebburn converted to help them on their way to a 3-0 win.
Substitute goalkeeper Dale Connor was sent on to replace Porter and he was among four teenagers given their Darlington debuts with Dave Mitchell, Connor Lowes and Shaun Read also featuring.
"It was great for the four young lads, to get a game," said Gray. "Unfortunately, Connor Lowes had to come off early on for Dale, but it was still great to get four 16-year-olds on the pitch to give them some sort of experience of senior football. They're the future of the club so it was important that we did that.
"It was a good game for some players to get minutes under their belt if they haven't been playing regularly.
"Tuesday gave us a chance to rest a few. Since I took over we've had 19 games, including friendlies, in the last three months and everyone has played some part.
"It's been Saturday-Tuesday pretty much all the way through and hardly had a free week.
"So it was nice to have the chance of resting a few lads for Saturday."
Although defeated, Gray was relieved that his players avoided serious injury in what was a bruising encounter.
"We got some bad injuries, some real bad gashes, twisted knees and ankles and they're the reason why I didn't want to play a full first team," said Gray, who replaced Adam Clough at the break after the midfielder was on the receiving end of some heavy challenges.
"No disrespect to the competition, but the league is the priority.
"The referee really spoilt the night for everybody. It was a penalty, but do you need to send him off as well in a competition like this? It wasn't the World Cup final.
"It spoilt the night, but to go from a red card to then go through the rest of the game without a booking despite all those challenges... I'm not advocating throwing yellow cards around, but part of his job is to protect players."
The suspended Stephen Thompson is among those who played on Tuesday but does not play today, but midfielder Leon Scott is available after returning from a one-week holiday.
David Dowson and Arjun Purewal are unavailable due to injury.
Gray added: "Saturday will be a different challenge, going from cup to league and there'll be massive changes, seven or eight, if not more.
Quakers have won seven of their eight league games while Dunston sit fourth-bottom.
Andrew Bulford is their danger man. He came through the ranks at Darlington when Gray was youth team coach and has since gone on to become Dunston's all-time leading scorer.
His two goals at Wembley in May won the FA Vase final, taking his tally for the campaign to 43 in all competitions.
Bulford has already notched ten goals this term and his brace last Saturday secured Dunston's first league win, 2-1 against Whitley Bay, after what's been a disappointing start to the season.
Their 4-0 defeat at Darlington last month was one of five successive losses, but manager Billy Irwin says that his team will be a different proposition today.
They have improved, following up the win over Whitley Bay before beating Shildon 4-1 in the league cup in midweek.
"The bad run was going to end sometime," said Irwin. "We can't look down any more.
"We've improved since the Darlington game and we gave Kendal two good games in the FA Cup before we lost at their place.
"We signed Lewis Teasdale last week, and he made a big difference up front. I can guarantee that Saturday's game will be more difficult for Darlington."