Quakers hope game will be on

The Northern Echo: HOPEFUL: Martin Gray is optimistic Darlington's game will be played today HOPEFUL: Martin Gray is optimistic Darlington's game will be played today

DARLINGTON are keeping their fingers crossed that today's game at home to Salford City does not become their second postponement inside three days.

The club have asked for volunteers to help prepare the Heritage Park pitch.

An inspection will be held at 9am, although a final decision could be made later in the day, which is what happened on Boxing Day when the game with Wakefield was postponed.

Despite the best efforts of around 25 volunteers, a frozen pitch eventually put paid to the match.

It was a blow to Quakers, who were expecting a bumper crowd for the festive fixture, especially having put together six successive wins before Christmas.

Rain was forecast last night, though manager Martin Gray is remaining upbeat. He said: "You've got to remain positive and prepare for the game to be on.

"I'm hopeful it will be. It's in the hands of the weather really, but hopefully there'll be a good wind and that will dry the pitch out."

In the absence of a fixture, Darlington had a light training session at Heritage Park on Boxing Day, but Gray had no arguments about referee Rebecca Welch postponing the game.

"It was a straightforward decision," said the manager, who has no new injury concerns in his squad.

"By 12pm we were hopeful because the pitch was softening up, but by 1pm it was getting crisp again, so it had to be off.

"We only had a light training session on a small part of the pitch."

Having put together a good run of form, Gray's message to his players on Boxing Day was simple: don't throw away your good work now.

Although the players may have been tempted to take the chance to celebrate Christmas, the manager told them: "We've got a job to do so don't spoil what we've done over the past few weeks for the sake of a couple of weeks at Christmas.

"We've been very good recently, we've had some good results and performances, but we need to keep it going."

A year ago, Quakers suffered a spate of postponements that resulted in them playing only one game during January.

Now that they are fifth and eight points adrift of leaders Warrington Town, they can ill afford a repeat, but their performance seven days ago was highly encouraging and Gray will hope his team can repeat the heroics of last season when Darlington won 21 of their last 23 games.

Central to those hopes is Stephen Thompson, the play-maker who scored a hat-trick in last Saturday's 7-0 win at Burscough.

"There were some fantastic performances, but when he's on his game like he was last Saturday he is unplayable," said Gray. "His goal from the free-kick and his second goal - with the touch and volley - were special. And for the first time in a while he got himself inside the penalty area and got himself a centre-forward's goal for his third.

"His overall game was good too, he mixed his game up."

With 16 goals to his name, Thompson has this season been watched by scouts representing clubs from higher divisions.

Gray said: "He's a top player at this level and you can understand why clubs are attracted to him. He's got 16 goals and he's not an out-and- out centre-forward.

"But it's not just about his goals, it's about his work ethic and what he brings to the team: his assists, his movement and retaining possession. He's a big player at this football club and you want to keep your best players with you."

Asked what Darlington would do if an offer was received for Thompson in January, Gray said: "He's got to continue what he's doing and I'm not bothered what any other club does. Clubs will always show interest in better players.

"We don't have a stance towards any interest in him unless someone rings and puts an offer in and then we'll take it from there.

"He's a fantastic kid to work with and he wants to do well for the club.

"He's so level-headed and focused on the team. There's no ego, he's a down to earth working class boy that wants to do well for our club and he loves Darlington. He enjoys playing for the club, we look after him and he's a fantastic kid to work with."

Thompson has scored 14 goals from outside the penalty area this season, one of which was in a 2-0 win at today's opponents Salford in September.

Salford are 11th and have won three and lost two of their last six games.

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