9:00am Saturday 15th March 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Darlington are in the midst of a fine run of results and need to maintain it today at Northwich Victoria if they are continue applying pressure on table-topping Curzon Ashton.
After rising to second in the table this week, with ten games to go Quakers are now seven points behind Curzon, who visit Heritage Park on Wednesday for a match which will play a significant part indeciding which side takes the automatic promotion place.
Before then Martin Gray's side have a not insignificant task today against Northwich, one of the five teams to have defeated them this season.
Although 13th, they are also a side who do not fear any of the promotion-chasers.
They have lost only three of their nine games so far against teams in the current top six.
Darlington had a representative at Monday evening's game when Northwich held Curzon to a 0-0 draw, the second time they have taken a point off the table-toppers.
Gray is expecting a tough afternoon: "We had them watched last weekend and again on Monday night at Curzon.
"They put in a big shift on Monday and they're well-organised by an ex-Football League manager in Jim Gannon.
"He was at Stockport and Peterborough and he'll have them set up well. We know about them, but we're confident in ourselves."
On Wednesday, the first of three midweek matches at Heritage Park in successive weeks, Gray saw his side defeat Cammell Laird 3-1 with their best display in recent weeks.
He said: "The performance was better than last Saturday's and the one before that. Three points are the most important thing, but if you can match that with a strong performance it is very pleasing.
"We kept the ball better, we had a better shape and we made better decisions on the ball.
"We knew they were going to play 4-5-1, so we knew they'd try to be hard to break down. We managed it though and we knew how important it was to win three points to go second.
"We went third last Saturday and now we're second. That's a boost for us because we've been winning a lot of games but stayed fourth for a long time."
Gary Brown and Joe Tait will continue at centre-back, having renewed their partnership on Wednesday due to the enforced absence of Chris Hunter and Alan White.
"White and Hunter have been great this year, they've hardly missed a game, but I was really confident knowing that Gary and Joe were going to step in," said Gray,
"They played together all last season and were solid, so it was great that we could call on the pairing from last year.
"They know each other's games, Gary is very vocal and they know what I'm about. They both put on a real good show."
Centre-backs aside, Quakers' squad is small - on Wednesday they drafted in two youth team players, David Mitchell and Adam Cocks, to be substitutes and Gray has this week been working on reinforcements in the hope of making a signing or two.
Midfielder Leon Scott suffered a hamstring strain on Wednesday, and Gray said: "We need to look at the squad depth because in my opinion we've got ten cup finals.
"But we're too thin on the ground now so we will be looking to bring players in, no question about it.
"Alan's out, Leon's out for the weekend and so is Hunter. It's unfair to throw young lads in at this stage of the season.
"We need to get the balance right and we need the competition for places to be healthy. It's all right bringing young lads on at 3-0 up, but it wouldn't be right to do much more than that when there's so much depending on the game.
"I'll be speaking to the chief scout and the directors because we need to be bringing players in."
A win today would be Quakers' 11th in a row away from home, though Northwich have not conceded in their last three matches.
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