Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DST to 80360 or email us
Rewards on offer for Darlington
After a week that has seen Darlington take a hardline stance towards discipline, Martin Gray has revealed that players will be rewarded if he feels they are worthy.
On Wednesday evening he released Marc Ellison after the midfielder had broken an agreement not to play Sunday league football.
Ellison signed in the summer and played the first 11 matches before being replaced by new arrival Craig Gott last Saturday against Newcastle Benfield.
Less than 24 hours later Ellison played for Hetton Lyons in the Durham Sunday League, a move that led to an angry Gray jettisoning the 21-year-old.
The player regrets his actions, he said: "I think one midfielder was always going to be moved on since Gotty signed. Stupidly I've made it easy for him, but I can't turn back time.
"I've seen the fans' messages on Twitter and I want them all to know that I appreciate their support this season and I wish everyone all the best."
Axing Ellison comes just as Gray has been handing out contracts to players that have impressed during the opening weeks of the season.
Leon Scott and Shaun Reay are the latest to commit themselves to the club having previously been able to sign for another club for free with seven days' notice.
Gray revealed there has been offered for his players, but he has moved to fend off interest by securing players' long-term future.
"We've got 11 players under contract now," he said. The first few weeks have been about me seeing the players in action, watching them in games and seeing how they got on.
"I wanted to see the players play for me, I wanted to see them put in a shift every week. They've done that and they deserve what they've got.
"Decisions have been made and two or three months down the line we've rewarded some players.
"They've been outstanding since the very first pre-season training session we had up until Tuesday night at Penrith and they're worthy of the contract they've been given."
Gray added: "The players can see that I'll look after them.
"I've had offers in over the last two weeks for players. But I'd say to our players 'do you want to go to another club, or do you want to stay with a club that's challenging for promotion with fantastic fans'?
"You're not going to get this anywhere else at this level of football. If you don't want to be part of this then fine, you can go. But who in their right mind would want to leave us?"
Darlington won 4-1 on Tuesday, their 11th win out 12 league games, to maintain a six-point lead at the top of the Northern League and today they play Billingham Town for the second time this season.
Quakers beat Town 3-2 three weeks ago at Heritage Park, a game that saw striker Stephen Thompson make his first start for Darlington.
He's quickly become a key player, creating six goals, and he found the net for the first time at Penrith.
"Amar Purewal and Thompson were a handful again," said Gray. "There were two assists from Thompson and a goal.
"He had a shot in the first half, which looked like it was going in until it was blocked, but he showed his class.
"He's had six assists now and it's nice that he's got himself a goal because he's needed that."
Gray hopes David Dowson will be available for selection after shaking off a groin strain, but Arjun Purewal remains out with an ankle problem.
Billingham are second-bottom, but they won 8-0 at ten-man Newton Aycliffe last week while they took the lead against Darlington when the sides met last month with an eye-catching strike from Jamie Owens.
Boss Carl Jarrett said: "I thought we played well at their place, took the lead, but our final decision making let us down.
"It all clicked together when we won 8-0 at Aycliffe last Saturday, even before their keeper was sent off. I couldn't fault the players for their effort."
Striker Micky Dunwell and midfielder Craig Perry are both back in the squad, but defender Jamie Middleton is missing because of injury.
Jarrett added: "It's going to be a great day for the club.
"Darlington are boosting every club's finances with the number of fans they bring with them, and it will certainly be a massive boost for our club."