Darlington boast the best defence in the division and nobody has made a larger contribution to that tag than Chris Hunter.

The 26-year-old is the only member of Quakers' squad to have not missed a minute of league action during 30 matches this campaign in which Darlington have conceded only 26 times.

Leaders Curzon Ashton, the firm promotion favourites, are next best on 28, though they have played one match less than Darlington.

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Game 31 comes tomorrow when New Mills visit Heritage Park, the last match in which Hunter will be partnered by Alan White who begins a two-game suspension for collecting ten bookings.

Splitting up their partnership will be a blow to manager Martin Gray, who is full of praise for Hunter, a player he brought to the club last summer from Shildon.

"I think he's enjoying playing alongside Alan White, who's got great experience. Chris wants to learn, he wants to give his all for the club and is so athletic and very quick,'' said Gray.

"He's brave too, exactly what you want a centre-back to be. He's playing alongside an experienced centre-back who is coming towards the end of his career, so the partnership works well.

"As soon as Chris steps on to the pitch he becomes a different type of kid. He's a winner, he wants to win, but he's a nice lad off the pitch.

"Everyone has a different character, but what's important to me is what they're like on the pitch - you want leaders and Chris and Alan have formed a very strong partnership this season."

Joe Tait remains on loan at the club, but Gary Brown is the most likely candidate to replace White, the veteran defender missing fixtures with Cammell Laird on Wednesday at Heritage Park and the match at Northwich Victoria three days later.

Gray added: "Gary is a leader and he did great for us last year, but he got a really bad injury in pre-season. He's like having a new signing for us at a crucial time."

Tomorrow's game represents the beginning of a hectic spell for Quakers, who play midweek at Heritage Park in each of the next three weeks.

The schedule means Darlington's small squad will be stretched, though Gray says he prefers to work with a smaller number of players.

He said: "Nathan Fisher has been patient, Gary has come back from injury, Jonny Davis has been in and out of the team, Leon Scott is back with us now. You need a strong, tight squad and we've got to keep it that way, that's my philosophy.

"I don't want 22 players, it's very hard to manage, very hard to keep them all happy. I'd rather have a strong 16 or 17 that gets on really well as a group."