Quakers seeking a big home derby double

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy Sports Editor

The tenants take on the landlords in the Heritage Park derby today with Darlington aiming for a repeat performance of their previous meeting.

Quakers began their life in the Northern League with a

3-1 win over Bishop Auckland on the opening day of the season.

That game was classed as Bishops' home game and today Darlington are the hosts - another win would continue their manager's hopes for a happy Christmas.

Martin Gray is targeting maximum points from his team's festive fixtures, and that ambition remains, having begun the programme by defeating Norton 4-2 on Boxing Day.

"Christmas is always a big period for every team," said the manager, whose next game is at South Shields a week today. "We've set ourselves some targets regarding what we want to achieve in terms of points at Christmas.

"So that win on Wednesday helped towards that target because we want maximum points in the four games before we play Shildon at the end of January.

"Recently we've beaten Durham and Norton and drew with the league champions, Spennymoor, so I'm pleased we look like we've got back on track after we'd lost two games.

"Wednesday wasn't a great performance, but it wasn't the worsr performance either on what was a poor pitch."

The playing surface is not in tip-top condition at Heritage Park, where Bishops, now third, defeated Newton Aycliffe on Wednesday, a game that Gray watched.

He made a sharp exit from Norton and saw most of a match that saw Bishops win 3-1 thanks to a late hat-trick by Andy Johnson.

"As well as Johnson, they've got Dale Jardine, who's a big lad and is a handful. So they're not a bad pair,'' he said.

"On their day they can cause problems, just like any team in the division really, so we've got to be prepared."

Johnson also netted on the first day of the season and is the division's joint-second top scorer on 14.

His midweek hat-trick was his second this month, having also bagged a treble in a 5-1 win against Sunderland RCA - one of six Bishops wins in their past ten league games.

But having lost twice recently to teams in the bottom half of the table - Consett and Team Northumbria - manager Colin Myers is concerned about his team's form.

"We're looking forward to the game, but we know that it's going to be tough.

"It also depends on which Bishop team turns up, because we've been inconsistent recently. The players should be up for the game, but sometimes they take a while to get going."

Bishops midfielder Dion Raitt returns after suspension for a midday kick-off, while midfielder Jamie Harwood will have a fitness test.

Gray will recall midfielder Craig Gott, who was replaced by Jonny Davis for Wednesday's win. But Davis is unavailable today.

Amar Purewal was also not in the starting line-up at Station Road, but he will return at the expense of Nathan Thomas, who is on loan from Sunderland.

"Craig should be OK for the weekend. I thought Jonny had a good solid debut,'' said Gray.

"We put Nathan Thomas in the team because we wanted to rest Amar for the weekend. It was good to give him a break.

"It was good to freshen him up and give Nathan a chance. He did fine. He was a bit anxious to score at times, because young lads can be like that, but he's got some ability.

"It's about learning the game at his age and that's what he's been sent out by Sunderland to do."

Gray this week allowed Arjun Purewal to join Whitby, and the manager has not ruled out making further additions to his squad.

On Wednesday, former Brandon keeper Ian Myers provided goalkeeping cover as usual reserve Chris Porter was unavailable due to work.

Jack Norton, formerly Quakers' No 1, has signed for Bedlington.

Today's game is subject to a 9.15 pitch inspection, due to the threat of waterlogging.

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