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Darlington ready for West trip
Darlington are at West Auckland today for a much-anticipated fixture that has been talked about for weeks, though not necessarily because of the match itself.
West Auckland's decision to double ticket prices - from £5 to £10 - has enraged Quakers supporters and many will boycott a game that would otherwise have seen an attendance of well above 1,000.
The issue has taken some of the focus from the game, but both managers would prefer to talk about the fixture, which is a fifth versus first affair.
West boss Peter Dixon, who saw his team beat Norton & Stockton Ancients 7-0 on Wednesday, says it will be "like a cup final" while Darlington manager Martin Gray wants to see his team win a 14th successive game.
Their 13th in a row came last Saturday over Whitley Bay, a game that saw Gray hand a debut to new goalkeeper Craig Turns.
A day before his 30th birthday, Turns came into the side at the expense of Jack Norton, who had played all 17 league matches until Gray made a decision which he admits was a tough one to make.
"It was a big decision to make and a tough decision as a manager," said Gray, who is not expect to make any changes at Darlington Road today.
"We'd won 16 out of 17 games with Jack in goal, but I get paid to make these decisions and it wasn't easy.
"Jack's got a really strong case, but it's a change that I've made and the reasons remains private. Jack's still part of my squad in the long term and it's now up to Jack to fight, get his head down and get himself back in the starting line-up.
"He reacted like any player, you're never going to be happen in that situation. If we'd lost the past five games it might've been different, but we hadn't.
"I always try to be honest with players. I told him on the Friday so that he was over the disappointment the day before the game rather than at 1.45pm on the day of the game."
He enjoyed a decent Darlington debut, though, capped by two fine saves towards the end of the 3-1 win.
Gray added: "He stood tall in one-on-one situations and made them two reaction saves towards the last 15 minutes and his kicking was good so I think we can call it a solid debut.
"He's come from a good club and helped them be successful."
Right-back Stephen Harrison suffered a hamstring strain last Saturday that caused him to be replaced by Adam Clough at half-time, but he was able to take part in training on Wednesday so Gray hopes he can play today.
Right-winger Chris Emms is available after returning from a holiday that saw him miss last weekend's win.
Should Emms feature at some point, he could well be marked by new West Auckland left-back Phil Gray, who joined this week from Quakers having turned down the chance to go to Blyth.
He is one of three ex-Darlington players at West, with winger Adam Rundle and striker John Campbell regulars in Dixon's side.
Campbell will today be partnered by Mattie Moffat who returns after a two-match ban. However, full-back Andrew Green and central defender Mark Stephenson are suspended.
West's 7-0 win in midweek was the ideal response to Dixon's offer to resign, which came following a defeat at struggling Newton Aycliffe.
He said: "I offered to resign last Saturday because some players only went through the motions at Aycliffe. It was the honourable thing do after I promised it would never happen, but Stuart Alderson [general manager] said no."
West have won six of their eight home league games, and Dixon added: "Darlington's visit will be like a cup final, just as it is for every other club who play them. It will be a hard game, and we'll be underdogs."