8:00am Saturday 23rd November 2013
By Craig Stoddart
Darlington have undergone a makeover with a little tactical tinkering, and having been the subject of a positional shift of his own earlier in the season Chris Hunter could not be happier.
Brought to the club in the summer, Martin Gray's initial plan was to use the 26-year-old at right-back.
Mixed fortunes in the opening stages of the season, however, culminated in a 3-0 defeat at Ramsbottom during September and that proved to be his final game before being moved to the centre.
More comfortable and more effective at the heart of defence, Hunter is now one of the first names on Gray's team sheet and he will play again today when Quakers face Ossett Town at Heritage Park.
"I'm happy with how it's going. I haven't missed a minute in the league, I'm playing well and glad to be back in the middle of the park rather than right-back," said Hunter, who has missed only two Durham Challenge Cup games when Gray has fielded a reserve side.
"I was right-back at the start of the season, but I am enjoying it a lot more in the middle. I think I've found my feet and I want to keep going in there.
"I played right-back in some games for Shildon, usually against pacey wingers, so I'd be put there for my pace, but a lot of the time I was playing centre-back.
"I think the original plan was for me to play right-back with Jordan Robinson in the middle, but as the season goes on things can change and obviously Martin prefers it the other way around. And now Bruno Pilatos has come in and is doing a great job at right-back so you can't really take him out.
"As a kid I was a right-winger because of my pace, so I was used to being thrown out there because I was quick. I don't fancy playing there now, I'm not skilful enough!"
Hunter partners Alan White in the centre, and says the experienced former pro's vocal approach makes him valuable to the team.
He said: "Since Alan has come in he is someone for me to learn from because he's 37 and I'm 26.
"Alan's game is all in his head. His talking is excellent for the back four. We didn't have that at the start of the season after Gary Brown got injured.
"It was me and Jordan at the start of the season and we aren't the most vocal, but Alan sorts things out."
Like Darlington, Hunter is gaining his first experience of the Evo-Stik First Division, having previously spent time in the Northern League as well as America.
He began his career at Chester-le-Street and spent time in the USA at Yavapi College in Arizona. He moved to California and played for University of California before returning to the North East and signing for Shildon, with whom he spent two years.
Although proud that he has not missed a minute of league action, the only player in the squad to do so, Hunter is more concerned with the team's progress.
Having dropped points of late until returning to winning ways last weekend, Quakers are sixth, 11 points off Warrington Town, who Darlington visit in a fortnight's time.
"I don't really look at my own stats too much, but I look at the team's stats. We don't want to lose track of the top teams," said Hunter.
"They're still winning games so we need to keep winning as well.
"Teams are more organised in this league, they do their homework on you and a few teams have been closing Stephen Thompson down.
"They know he's our best player, so that's why we've changed the way we play and it's working.
"Teams are a lot fitter. Also, a lot of Northern League teams will sit in, whereas teams in the Evo-Stik will come and play against you instead of holding their line. They'll never give up either. Like the team last Saturday, they were making attacking subs and trying to win."
With no new injury problems, Gray is likely to select the same team today that won 3-0 at New Mills seven days ago, when Thompson scored twice from his new position behind strikers David Dowson and Amar Purewal.
The 4-3-1-2 formation, Hunter explains, also helps out the back four as an extra midfielder is on hand to assist in defensive duties.
"We've moved the formation around a little but put Leon Scott back in the middle and we are going at teams a lot more," said Hunter.
"We've got three in midfield so that means we can always have one in front of us to shield a centre-forward when he drops off for the ball.
"A lot of teams in this league like to lay with one up front and one in the hole, so this way we've got a midfielder to cover us rather than a defender stepping in."
Youth team players Adam Cocks and David Mitchell have joined Newton Aycliffe on loan.
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