9:00am Saturday 12th April 2014
By Craig Stoddart
After starting the season on a stretcher, exceeding expectations could become Gary Brown's motto.
He has turned his attention to winning promotion earlier than some anticipated now that he's returned from injury.
The Darlington captain has started the last eight games since returning from a long-term ankle injury six weeks early.
He immediately began playing full matches instead of gradually working his way back to fitness following an injury sustained in a pre-season friendly against Gateshead.
Now he wants promotion ahead of schedule too.
"Someone said at the start of the season that two promotions in three seasons was the target, but the players want two in two," said Brown.
"There'll be another target next year, as a club, and we'll want to achieve that as well.
"We want to progress and keep the momentum going."
That winning mentality, a clear characteristic in Quakers' dependable defender, should prevail among the rest of the squad for the remainder of Darlington's season, believes Brown, as players are under pressure to be selected in the play-offs.
Quakers can officially confirm their place in the end-of- season promotion shindig if they win at home to Padiham today and results elsewhere go in their favour.
Realistically, however, Darlington already know they will contest the play-off semi-finals.
That prospect ensures the team are eager to impress, especially with a strong bench now at Martin Gray's disposal.
The manager recently commented that he believed his squad to be the strongest it has been since becoming manager.
He has had goal-getters David Dowson and Amar Purewal on the bench recently, alongside defender Alan White, who last weekend was named in the Evo-Stik First Division North team of the season with Stephen Thompson.
"We've got four games to play and we have to win them," said Brown, a centre-back ordinarily, though a midfielder of late.
"We need to pick points up to get second place and also, on a personal note, nobody's position on the pitch is safe.
"Whoever gets the chance to play in these next four games has got to win the shirt to play in the play-offs.
"Whoever has been left out of the team - like Jonny Davis was - you take it and you get on with it because you trust that the XI who have been picked are good enough to win the points.
"If you're needed on the bench then so be it, if you're not in the squad you keep your chin up because everybody is in this together.
"We're like a big bunch of mates and because we had a good dressing room last year the core of that has continued with all the new lads, who have been welcomed and made to feel part of the team straightaway."
A combination of injury, suspension, and a new 3-4-1-2 formation has resulted in the bulk of places being up for grabs, and the change in team shape has resulted in Brown playing in centre-midfield alongside Leon Scott.
Passing the ball may not be his strong point, he concedes, but Brown has started the last eight games and believes he can make a contribution to the cause.
He said: "Sometimes I'll hear Joe Tait behind me shouting and for a second I'm thinking 'God I'm out of position here, we should be next to each other!'
"I'm a centre-half, but I'd play for Darlington anywhere and try my best wherever I play. The manager has the final decision.
"I'd like to think I can break play down. I don't rate myself from a passing point of view, but I'm a ball-winner and that's what he's put me in there to do.
"It's me and Leon in there, but because we've got the two wingers and three forwards in front of us you need someone to sit in there in the middle.
"If you put two attacking midfielders in the temptation for them would be to bomb on with the wingers then your three at the back would be exposed.
"He hasn't put me and Leon in there to pass the ball about, it's a shield, we're there to win second balls and hook the ball on.
"I just like to work hard, win the ball back and give it to someone who can play."
No matter what position he is playing in, that Brown has become a regular is no mean feat given that he was not due to return from injury until around this stage.
He explained: "I had a great rehab with the physios. There's been no reaction, even after the first 90 minutes when I played right-back. There was no swelling, just a little bit of soreness.
"The general plan from the physio was to play 45 minutes, then 60, then 80. I got put straight in and when I told them I'd played 90 the doctors and the surgeons at the hospital were amazed."
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