9:00am Wednesday 8th January 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Darlington will send their youth team to Gateshead this evening for a Durham Challenge Cup tie.
With promotion the only target in mind and his small squad already stretched by injury, manager Martin Gray sees little value in risking his senior players for the second round game.
Fourth-placed Quakers are in the midst of a good run, but their lack of numbers was laid bare last Saturday when, for their home win over Clitheroe, they called on the recently-retired Steven Johnson to sit on the bench.
Gray said: "We've got Gateshead on Wednesday, but I'm not too concerned about that at all.
"We'll play a young team and give lads a breather for Saturday. I've not got much interest in the competition.
"Some clubs will give the competition a right go and I can see why, but it's not something I'm bothered about for the first team."
Explaining Johnson's return, a fortnight after his so-called farewell game against a Sunderland XI, Gray said: "We're thin on the ground and he always said he'd be available if needed.
"I rang him in the morning because we had one or two players that might've needed fitness tests, so I said if you're going to come and watch the game bring your boots."
Although Gray will be at the International Stadium, selecting the team and in charge this evening will be youth team coach Mark Fanning.
Asked if he feared that the young Quakers could suffer a heavy loss this evening against a more experienced Gateshead team, Gray said: "It will be an experience for them.
"Hopefully they will enjoy playing on a good pitch against senior players who play in the Conference."
Gateshead, who are a point outside the play-off position and eighth in the table, will also make substantial changes, but will still field a side featuring four or five players with Football League experience.
Former Quakers Liam Hatch, Micky Cummins, Rob Ramshaw and Joe Tait will all start, although Dan Smith is out of favour so may not play.
Both were signed by previous manager Anth Smith and are available for transfer. Gray is interested in bringing Tait back to Quakers, but knows he faces competition from a string of Northern Lesague clubs.
Gateshead striker Adam Boyes, Barrow's top scorer for the past two years, will play as will former Chelsea starlet Carl Magnay and ex-Bradford City left-back Luke O'Brien.
Kick-off this evening is 7.30pm with admission £3 for adults and £1 concessions.
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