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Quakers ready to clinch title
A packed Heritage Park will see Darlington clinch the Northern League title if they win at home to Team Northumbria today.
Spennymoor Town's failure to beat Ashington on Thursday evening has handed Quakers an opportunity to seal first place and promotion - the club's first as they aim to return to the Football League.
Administration last season resulted in a four-division demotion and also saw them left homeless following their departure from The Northern Echo Arena.
But the club quickly regrouped and manager Martin Gray built a squad that needs one win from its remaining two matches to clinch promotion, the club's first for 22 years.
Supporters last enjoyed a promotion in 1991, when Brian Little led Darlington to the Division Four title, and the likelihood of winning the title today has created a large demand for tickets. Only a small number remain available at the turnstiles, as Martin Gray aims to secure the three points needed to secure the silverware.
Second-placed Spennymoor can reach 118 points, while Darlington will go to 119 with a win today and, having played in front of large attendances all season, Gray is sure his team can handle the pressure.
"We've been under massive pressure and the players have been absolutely magnificent," said the manager, who has overseen 38 wins from 44 games.
"We've been top of the league from day one, we've held that position all season and we've been there to be shot at.
"Everyone raises their game and everyone wants to see you fall. The players have handled that all season and they thrive off it, they really do, and who wouldn't when they're playing in front of a thousand people?
"We always said when we brought players in that we wanted to see how they handled pressure and 99 per cent of the season has been really positive. They've had plaudits, which they've deserved because of what they've done on the pitch.
"Their work ethic, their desire and will to win games - I think the fans have loved it."
While Spennymoor played twice in midweek, for the fourth week running, Darlington have not played since last Saturday's 2-0 win at Shildon.
That was their fourth fixture in eight days, each game seeing Gray make a solitary change to his starting XI, though he has rotated his substitutes.
He said: "The players have put in an unbelievable shift. We took ten points out of 12 in eight days in what was a tough week.
"I've just been trying to involve everybody in the squad. We've only got two spare bodies when everybody's fit.
"Adam Nicholls and Darren Richardson didn't make the 16, but for the previous two games Jordan Robinson and Kerry Hedley didn't make the 16 either.
"I'm just trying to keep everyone involved in these last two games and as it turned out Kerry came on at Shildon and produced a great bit of quality."
Hedley's quick footwork before creating Steven Johnson's goal seven days ago means he will surely be in the squad again today, and Gray has reported no new injury problems.
Team Northumbria and Guisborough Town, Wednesday's opponents, are two of the four clubs that carry the distinction of defeating Darlington this season.
The university side, a youthful team that like to keep the ball on the floor, won 2-0 in November, and head coach Paul Johnson is looking forward to the test.
"The game will prove a big test for us in how far we have come from last season in the division below," he said.
"So far this season the top sides have brought the best out of us, so we are really looking forward to the challenge today.
"We will be looking for a big response from the players following our poor performance against Celtic Nation earlier in the week."
Striker Mark Fenwick and defender Ross Wilkinson are out, while former Darlington midfielder Dan Riley faces a fitness test.
* Should Darlington win the title, the trophy presentation would take place at Wednesday's final match of the season at Heritage Park against Guisborough Town.