Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DST to 80360 or email us
Darlington Comment by Craig Stoddart
ANOTHER new division awaits Darlington, full of opposition and venues that most of their players and fans will be crossing paths with for the first time.
Much like their position 12 months ago, but this time it’s New Mills, Cammell Laird, Padiham and other less familiar names that are among Quakers’ rivals in 2013-14.
At least during last season, players and assistant manager Brian Atkinson had, previously in their respective careers, done the rounds in the North-East nonleague scene so were familiar with the Northern League. The Evo-Stik First Division North promises to be a journey of discovery.
Harry Dunn’s nous, however, is not limited to the North-East, so the chief scout and all-round font of football knowledge will again be a source of expertise to Martin Gray as the manager attempts to steer Darlington to a second successive promotion.
The Northern League title was won by winning 40 of 46 league fixtures and such an impressive statistic is unlikely to be matched. Although Step 4 is not thought to be a significantly greater standard, it will surely provide sterner tests.
While the Northern League is recognised as being one of the toughest in the country at Step 5, more of the opposition at Step 4 will be closer to Spennymoor Town’s level, who pushed Darlington all the way.
What will mirror last season will be standard of grounds and attendance figures, with Quakers again being the Goliath to everybody else’s David.
They have sold close to 700 season tickets, close to last year’s figure – though some have been discouraged by a price increase – so their fans will again outnumber the opposition. Although a cliche, playing against Darlington represents a ‘cup final’ to many teams and that stance has even been witnessed during pre-season; putting one over Quakers remains a coup, even in a friendly.
Gray used the friendlies to look at a number of trialists as he looks to bolster a thin squad, which has now been weakened by the absence for eight-12 weeks of centre-back Gary Brown. The captain sustained an ankle injury ten days ago.
The team has changed more than could have been envisaged.
Rather than being a seamless transition – Joe Tait, Stephen Harrison Chris Emms and Adam Nicholls – key players have moved on for differing reasons.
Much is expected of new midfielder Paul Robinson, from Whitley Bay, and Andy Johnson, who was the Northern League top scorer with Bishop Auckland for the past two seasons. Terry Galbraith and Stephen Thompson were two of the stars of last season and they can both be expected to shine again, while Kerry Hedley, a Darlington-born former Hartlepool United youth team player, has caught the eye in pre-season.
It is now the manager’s task to find a winning formula with a new version of his updated team and challenge for promotion at the first attempt. It won’t be easy, but he did the trick last season.
Comments are closed on this article.