9:00am Saturday 19th April 2014
By Craig Stoddart
Darlington intend to build a team around Stephen Thompson after the forward committed his future to the club by signing a new contract.
Quakers are reluctant to reveal how long the contract lasts, but manager Martin Gray could not hide his pleasure.
"I'm delighted he's signed a new contract, he's such an important player to us," said the manager, whose team face play-off-chasing Farsley today at Heritage Park.
"We invested heavily in him 18 months ago when we signed him from Durham City and he's repaid us ten-fold since then, not just with his goals but with his assists too. He's been fantastic for us."
Thompson is the only Darlington player to start all 39 league games this term, netting 24 goals.
He has bagged two hat-tricks and was recently named Evo-Stik Player of the Season.
The 25-year-old began his career at Middlesbrough and was released without making an appearance. He then played for Port Vale and Telford before returning to the region with Durham.
Gray admits that Thompson retains hopes of returning to the full-time game.
The manager said: "He's still got aspirations to play higher and we wouldn't stand in the way of him or any other player.
"If it was the right opportunity for all parties then he'd go with our best wishes, but we're planning to build a team around him.
"He's such an important player for us and he wants to be part of what we're trying to do."
Gray has spoken to each of his players this week regarding their future and he has also offered 12-month contracts, which include a one-year option, to Ian Ward and Jack Walker.
Both have made an immediate impact since joining last month from Durham, Ward scoring twice and Walker adapting on the right side of defence, having previously played on the left with both Durham and Whitley Bay reserves. The Newcastle-born 23-year-old, who works as a physiotherapist in Hartlepool, was Quakers' man of the match during the 3-0 win over Padiham.
"I wasn't at my best in my last game against Radcliffe Borough, so I just wanted to put a performance in to stay in the team," said Walker.
"I played more as a right-midfielder in my first two games, but last Saturday it was more of a 4-3-3, with me and Terry Galbraith bombing on as much as we can.
"In my two seasons at Durham I was left-back and before that I was left wing-back in a 3-5-3 formation, so I'm adapting to playing right-sided again."
"I'd heard that Martin had been watching me for a while. I was on a contract at Durham, so that was something more difficult to get out of instead of Darlington putting in seven days for me.
"As a footballer you want to play at as high a level as you can and these lads are quality. This is the best team I have played for.
"I know a lot of them have played higher and dropped down, but this is the highest I've played. I've come from the bottom and worked my way up."
While Quakers' place in the play-offs is assured, ensuring they finish second would give them home advantage in the semis, as well as the final, should they get there.
They will have a tough encounter today, though, against the team lying in fifth position.
On Monday, Farsley defeated champions Curzon Ashton and a week ago beat play-off rivals Ramsbottom 3-2 thanks to two late goals.
After missing five games with a hamstring strain, Jordan Robinson has recovered and is available for selection today, although Gray may not put him in the starting XI.
He said: "Hopefully after tomorrow we'll still have another four games to play, so I don't know if he will start. We don't want to throw him in at the deep end."
Quakers are at second-bottom Wakefield on Monday and then complete their league programme at Heritage Park against Burscough next Saturday.
* The Evo-Stik First Division play-off semi-final, which is a one-legged affair, will be held in the first midweek after the season ends.
Whether Darlington are at home or away depends on their final league position, as does the date. It will be played on April 29 or 30. The play-off final, for which the venue also depends on league position, is on May 3.
The club released a statement this week regarding ticket details, saying: "Should Darlington be at home for either fixture, the game(s) will be all-ticket, and there will be an opportunity for season ticket holders to purchase their tickets in advance of the tickets going on general sale (for the semi-final only). The tickets will be available from Quaker Retail and online (with a small charge to cover fees) as soon as possible. An allocation will be provided to our opponents.
"Tickets for these games are not included in the season ticket price, and a separate ticket will need to be purchased for these games. Prices for the fixture(s) have not yet been confirmed, though the club expects, in co-operation with our opponents and the League, to be able to confirm that ticket prices will be maintained at the same price as for the rest of the season.
"Due to the practical requirements of the matches, and the short time-scales for ticket sales, we are unable to allocate seats for these fixtures, and seats in the main and family stands will be available on a first-come, first-served basis."
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