8:00am Wednesday 1st January 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Darlington manager Martin Gray treated his players to a New Year's Eve training session last night as preparation for what he hopes will be a long-awaited New Year's Day win.
Not since Alun Armstrong scored the only goal of the game away to Scunthorpe United on the first day of 2005 have they taken three points on January 1.
Doing likewise today could take Gray's men up to third in the Evo-Stik North table and the manager believes that a light training session the day before a match is the best approach to today's game at Kendal Town.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, he explained: "We're training 6-9. We're doing things right.
"We do things as professionally as we can. If we were a pro club we'd have the players in during the day time, but some of the lads work, so we'll train tonight instead."
Gray will have Leon Scott on the coach that travels to Kendal, despite him being sent off on Saturday.
The midfielder saw red for violent conduct after clashing with Salford City's Otis Gorman during the second half of the 2-2 draw, becoming Quakers's first red-card victim since Darren Richardson away to West Auckland in November 2012.
But as Scott's three-match suspension does not begin for a fortnight - the day Darlington travel to Harrogate Railway Athletic - Gray will be able to call on the 27-year-old.
"I didn't see the incident, but I've spoken to people who did so there'll be no appeal," said Gray, who confirmed that he will be disciplining Scott.
The manager, though, could hand a recall to Jonny Davis, who was rested at the weekend and made way for Dale Hopson.
It was Hopson's first league start since returning to the club, while striker Nathan Fisher was also given 90 minutes ahead of David Dowson, who came off the bench to nab Darlington's dramatic last-gasp equaliser.
Although the alterations coincided with the team's six-match winning run coming to an end, Gray stands by his decisions, saying: "You've got to show some faith in some players. I brought Fisher and Hopson in, two good footballers.
"It was hard for them lads, it was hard for everybody, they need to be on the ball and we couldn't really do that.
"The longer the game went on they both showed some real bits of quality. Fisher nearly scored, Dale made some telling passes. They're going to be good players for this club in the long-term."
Chief scout Harry Dunn watched Kendal's 3-1 defeat at Harrogate RA on Saturday, when they conceded three goals inside four minutes and also missed a penalty.
However, they are only three places behind Quakers and Gray remembers their strong performance at Heritage Park in August.
Their key player is midfielder Danny Coid, who made close to 300 Football League appearances, the vast majority for Blackpool, while in 20-goal Danny Mitchley they have the division's leading scorer.
Gray said: "I know that they got beat, but everybody can have an off day and I remember how they played against us a few months ago. They were a decent side.
"Coid is their best player. He knits things together so it's important that we keep him quiet because the rest of the team respond to him."
Should the weather forecast be accurate, the pitch at The Northgate Vehicle Hire Stadium will be heavy going, though having already seen Quakers' Boxing Day game fall victim to the weather, Gray is keen to get the game played.
However, having a break on Boxing Day while Salford played proved not to be in Darlington's favour as they came back from 2-0 down with two goals in the closing stages.
"They'd played only 48 hours before and then had a two-hour car journey up here," said the manager. "Our fitness levels are good and that was a factor. We probably overpowered them because of that extra day's rest.
"I'd still rather have played on Boxing Day. We lost a home game against Wakefield, who I was confident of beating, so that was a missed opportunity."
Saturday saw Darlington struggle for an hour, but the draw extended their unbeaten league run to seven matches and Gray remains upbeat.
"We've picked 19 points up out of 21 so I'm delighted with our form," he said. "We've had a disappointing hour over seven games, but I would've settled for that.
"It's an important point because it keeps the run going.
"We've been down to Warrington recently and I would've taken a point before we went there. We got three that day and drawn at home on Saturday, so it was another point towards keeping us in the top five."
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