8:00am Saturday 18th January 2014
By Craig Stoddart
A year ago Joe Tait reached the halfway point of the season having firmly established himself at the heart of Darlington's defence and promotion was within sight.
Twelve months on the promotion target remains the same, although this time Tait faces a fight to regain his place, having rejoined when the team are in top form.
Quakers have won eight of their last nine games and Chris Hunter and Alan White have made the centre-back positions their own during a campaign in which Tait has hardly played following an ill-fated move to Gateshead.
Having been one of Quakers' outstanding performers in 2012-13, the 23-year-old centre-back was recruited by the Conference club last summer. But after being unable to make an impact Tait is now back in Darlington's black and white.
"I played the first three games, but then I got a bad injury," said Tait, who was given a defensive-midfield role for his Quakers comeback seven days ago at Harrogate RA.
"A new gaffer came in, Gary Mills. He didn't fancy me so I've moved on and now the aim is to try and get another promotion with Darlington.
"There's always going to be doubters, people that say I can't cut it at that level. But I've got confidence in my own ability. I wish Gateshead all the best, I'm just focusing on Darlington."
Aged 23, Tait does not rule out returning to professional football given the opportunity, adding: "You can never say never, but right now I want to be a part of this club.
"It's got the right people behind it - if you look at the backroom staff, that speaks volumes. I want to be successful again this season and who knows what might happen next season? Hopefully I'll sign a contract and we can progress from there."
The win at Harrogate saw Quakers backed by an estimated travelling support of 900 and Tait points to Darlington's fans as being a factor in the team's success.
"The players were talking about it when we came out to warm up. The following at this level is unbelievable. We saw it last year and I know it's a cliche, but they really are the 12th man at times.
"We love the support we get, we don't take it for granted, it's absolutely brilliant and these are the best around as far as I'm concerned. They're a pleasure to play in front of.
"It might not have worked out at Gateshead, but it's really good to be back here. People could say it's a backward step, but I could have stayed in the Conference. I had an option to stay there. I could have signed for another Conference team, but I chose to come to Darlington.
"I see Darlington as big or even bigger than Gateshead. We're a massive club and we've got massive ambition. If we can get back into the town who knows what happens next. The sky is the limit."
Tait scored after only eight minutes of last week's 2-0 win and celebrated by running to Darlington's dug-out.
He explained: "I ran over to see Tony Norman (goalkeeping coach) as he was giving me some banter last year about not scoring. I was given a goal against Whitley Bay, but I was a bit embarrassed to celebrate that one.
"It's great to be back among the lads, Browny, Harra and Tommo are all here. The best thing about last season was that we had an unbelievable team spirit and we've got it again now. There are some great characters here.
"When we're not on top we'll stick together and grind a result out."
With Leon Scott still suspended, Tait keeps his place for today's trip to bottom-of-the-table Ossett Albion, a team who have lost their last eight league games at home.
They may take heart, however, from losing to the division's two top sides, Curzon Ashton and Warrington, by only a single goal.
Curzon are at home to Warrington today.
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