DARLINGTON manager Martin Gray is confident his team is ready for the new season - and is backing Quakers to go one better than last season.
Quakers start their campaign against Warrington Town today, hoping for promotion after missing out in the play-offs in May.
After going so close last season, Gray is hoping to be challenging for the top spots again this time around, and is happy with the squad he has assembled.
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Gray said: “We’ve got to move on from what happened last season and push on for the top. We’ve got have a positive outlook for the season and focus on what’s ahead.”
The club finished second to Curzon Ashton last season and had to try and earn promotion to the play-offs.
Their semi-final with Ramsbottom United was marred with controversy as Leon Scott was the victim of a brutal challenge by Owen Roberts that resulted in his early departure, before two players were dismissed in an ill-tempered affair.
Gray is understandably keen to draw a line under last season's disappointment, but there will be a hangover from the play-offs as Stephen Thompson and Jordan Robinson saw red that night meaning they will miss today’s opener. They should return for Tuesday's early derby with Spennymoor Town.
There has been a number of changes within the ranks with Liam Hatch coming in, and Joe Tait going to Moors.
The club is still in talks with a number of potential recruits, including trialist Liam Marrs who featured in a friendly at Bishop Auckland.
But while further additions are still possible, Gray believes that with a fully-fit squad, his side is in great shape.
He said: “Every manager hopes to improve and we’ve pushed to try and build on the squad we had. We’ll push to get new players if they’re the right players for the team and those that are already at the club.
“We’ve got everyone fit and ready, and we’re in a good position to make a real push for promotion."
Gray thinks their pre-season, which included a game with Sunderland, has also done its job.
He said: “We had some tough competitive games against the likes of Sunderland and that’s set us up greatly. It’s excellent preparation for us by playing players in the top level of football in the Premiership. That’ll help us a lot for the start of the season.”
Opening day opponents, Warrington, were also in the play-offs last season, beaten in the semi-finals by Bamber Bridge. Both Warrington and Bamber Bridge will be looking to challenge again.
Also looking a major threat are Salford City, who now have the financial support of the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes of the Manchester United Class of ‘92.
Under new ownership and with major plans for the future, Salford join the list of top challengers Darlington will have to deal with.
Nevertheless, Gray said: “There are a lot of the teams that were in the first half pushing for the promotion spots who look like they'll be strong again.
“Salford have gone through a lot of changes in ownership and look to be top challengers. It’s going to be a competitive season with a number of sides fighting and pushing for the play-offs.”