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Mowden Park set for start of new era
DARLINGTON Mowden Park move into their new home this afternoon with first-team coach Danny Brown confident the club's players will relish their new surrounds.
Mowden will make their debut in the Northern Echo Arena as they take on Bromsgrove in National Two North (2.15pm).
The club have left their former home at Yiewsley Drive and are expecting a crowd of up to 1,500 to celebrate the start of a new dawn in the Arena.
Darlington Football Club were forced to move out of the stadium when they couldn't make ends meet, but Mowden officials are confident their business plan will enable them to maintain a sound financial footing.
And with the club currently sitting in third position in National Two North, Brown is hoping the change of scenery will help push them into a play-off spot by the end of the campaign.
"There's been a lot of anticipation in the build up, but now the first game is here, the lads can't wait to get out there and sample the atmosphere of a big crowd in a fantastic stadium," he said.
"They've had a chance to train in the Arena in the last month and a half, but it will be a completely different experience once a crowd is present and they're playing a competitive fixture.
"I'm confident they'll settle straight into the surrounds, and the added benefit is that the pitch in the new stadium is such a cracking surface.
"It's absolutely ideal to play rugby on and with Bromsgrove providing decent opposition, it should be a great first game."
Unfortunately, Mowden will have to make their Arena bow without the services of skipper Junior Fagalilo, who is unavailable because he has to attend a wedding. He will be replaced by young hooker Tom Larder, who makes his maiden first-team start.
Centre Chris Peace is also unavailable after breaking his thumb, an injury that will keep him on the sidelines for at least two months, and he will be replaced by Craig Dominick.
"As you can imagine, the competition for places for this game has been especially fierce," said Brown. "All the lads have been desperate to be involved, and we're able to name a strong starting line-up.
"It's a shame that the two lads who are unavailable will miss out, but two young lads are stepping in and it'll be a great experience for them especially."
In National One, Blaydon will aim to halt a two-game losing run as they entertain Wharfedale. Director of rugby Micky Ward is deprived of the services of back-rowers Rob Bell and Ben Morris, but Jason Smithson, Keith Laughlin and Gavin Jones should all return.
Tynedale are at Coventry, and after back-to-back postponements, the Northumberland club will be hoping to improve on their current placing of 12th in the table.
Craig Tennant is set to return to the Billingham squad after recovering from an illness, while England Colleges flanker Joe Arrowsmith will be named among the replacements.
"Arrowsmith has trained with us but unfortunately games have been called off because of the weather," said Billingham director of rugby Stewart Evans. "He was called up to the squad for last week's game at Lymm because Craig was ill, but it was called off."
West Hartlepool are boosted by the return of Anthony Carr, but Ryan Painter, Greg Edwards and Scott Butcher are all unavailable.
Andrew Foreman will start in his preferred scrum-half position, with Luke Mallinson, Zac Southern and Andy Robson also added to the West squad.
Middlesbrough skipper Richie Barker returns to the starting line-up for the North One East trip to league leaders Beverley. He will play in the second row in place of the unavailable David Hinchley, with Matty Helm preferred to Chris Horton at prop.
Jack Bircham replaces Simon O'Farrell at scrum-half, with Lewis MacSween switching to full-back.
Darlington host Old Crossleyans, Durham City are at home to Morpeth and Northern entertain Sheffield.