Brian Atkinson was at Newton Aycliffe during their surge through local football into the Ebac Northern League, and today he returns to his hometown club as Darlington bid to reignite their season.

Darlington's assistant manager was heavily involved as Aycliffe won the Durham Alliance in 2008 and the Wearside League a year later before joining the Northern League and winning Division Two at the first attempt.

This is their second season in Division One and they find themselves towards the bottom of the table, though their form has improved of late.

Loading article content

Atkinson wants to see his former club, who are coached by his nephew Danny Mellanby, the former Darlington striker, avoid dropping back into Division Two, having been part of their push into the Northern League.

"It's something I'm proud to have been part of, getting the club into the Northern League.

"There were three of us - me, Allan Oliver and Gary Farley - who did basically everything off the pitch. When it came to an end it was only because of circumstances - looking after my young 'un - it wasn't football reasons.

"For years and years the town was crying out for a non-league team. They used to play in the Wearside League a long time ago, probably 20 years.

"The club won the Durham Alliance and then applied to go into the Wearside League, but we had to play at Shildon, where the running track is, until Aycliffe's ground was up to scratch because there was nothing to begin with, it was just a field.

"Once we went up to the Northern League we won promotion from Division Two very quickly.

"It was the same players for the majority of time, but there's been a lot of changes since I left.

"I had a bit of time away then went to Spennymoor for the back end of last season. Then manager got the job at Darlington and asked me to go with him so I've had a bit of success at different clubs."

It took three promotions for Aycliffe to go from park football, in the Durham Alliance, to the Northern League. The same number would take Quakers into the Conference North - one below the level they were at last season.

It's a return to the Football League, however, which is the aim.

Atkinson said: "The expectation levels are different at Darlington and I know Aycliffe have a good following, there's a lot of fans at Darlington.

"We were a Football League club a couple of years ago and the ambition is to get back there."

Oliver's team have scored five goals in two of their last three games, wins over Norton and Team Northumbria, to takes themselves up to 21st with three wins out of their last six matches.

"They've turned the corner and have been playing well for a few weeks, but not always getting results," said Atkinson.

"We've had them watched a few times. Harry Dunn's been to a lot of their games, partly because our next opposition always seems to be playing Aycliffe the week before.

"I was going to go myself last year until it got called off late on."

Aycliffe's match with Durham was called off last Saturday less than an hour before kick-off, meaning their past two games have been postponed, the same situation Darlington are in.

Both teams could be without a game again today - the match is subject to a 10.30am pitch inspection.

Quakers have not played for a fortnight - when they lost at Team Northumbria - so have not won since the trip to Celtic Nation three weeks ago.

"Everyone wants to play games and everyone's disappointed when a game is called off, but we've been training," added Atkinson.

"We're fortunate enough to be able to use the artificial surface at Longfield School in Darlington, which is a great facility. We trained on Saturday and got chance to watch the youth team, so that was useful, and then we trained again on Wednesday."

Terry Galbraith will finally make his Darlington debut after joining from Dunston ten days ago while Jack Norton will be in goal due to the absence of the injured Craig Turns.

For Aycliffe, striker Fred Woodhouse is missing because of suspension, but otherwise Oliver will choose from a full strength squad.

"Darlington aren't top of the table for nothing," he said. "We seem to raise our game against the better teams, and we'll be giving it our best shot."