AN eventful Darlington season that once promised so much is drawing to a conclusion, two games to go before everyone can take a breather.
They play their final home game today, the season finishing at Salford City in seven days’ time, but the players and management team are likely to be denied a place in the play-offs despite being likely to fulfil their objective.
The season’s aim was to finish in the top five, a target that can be reached should Darlington, currently fourth, beat 17th-placed Telford United today, but a mistake by Quakers’ hierarchy will see the team in sixth – currently Salford City – take their place, unless an appeal is successful.
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The outcome of the appeal will be heard next week, but already two directors, Richard Cook and Jonathan Jowett, have stepped down as a consequence of the club failing to meet ground criteria, leaving Quakers at a crossroads, and there is now uncertainty regarding the squad, who deserve a good send-off in return for their efforts this season, believes manager Martin Gray.
He has been left frustrated by the prospect of a season’s efforts going unrewarded, but is grateful for the support shown towards his players by the club’s loyal fans.
Easter Monday’s game with FC United drew a gate of 2,147, with less than 300 in the visitors’ end, leaving Gray to say: “The support was incredible, nearly 2,000 of our fans at the game despite the news about the play-offs.
“There was a big turnout at Alfreton on Saturday as well.
“The fans have been great this year and on Saturday I’d like to see them give us the best attendance possible.
“We have the best support outside the Football League. They have been brilliant for us all season, home and away, and that’s been the same in all the time I’ve been in charge.
“They have followed us to every Northern League ground and right the way up to the Conference North. They have been great with us and I think they’ve had their rewards from the players.
“I’m asking the fans to come and support the players, it’s about them now.
“It’s our last home game and I want the fans to turn out in their droves – can we make it a big crowd to give the players exactly what they deserve?”
Easter wins over Alfreton and FC United, following the win over Tamworth a fortnight ago at Blackwell, means Darlington have taken maximum points in three games in a row for the first time since October.
Gray and his squad remain focused on finishing as high as they can, and he added: “We have trained as normal this week, we have prepared as we usually would.
“We have to do our job right, that’s all we can do. We’ve got to stay focused on what we want to do and that means finishing with as many points as possible.
“The aim at the start of the season was to finish as high as we can in this league and we’ll continue to do that.”
Goalscoring defender Terry Galbraith is rated at 50-50 having sustained a calf injury which has prevented him completing either of the last two games, both of which have seen him in the centre of defence.
“He’s flexible where he can play, and he’s been smashing for us,” Gray said. “He can play in the centre or left-back, certainly at this level, and has done well for us.”
Galbraith has scored in each of Quakers’ last three games – two of them penalties – taking his season’s tally to 13 and 54 in total, 29 from the spot, in almost 200 games for the club.
Meanwhile, veteran striker Lee Hughes is in the Telford squad and in line to create a little bit of history.
The February signing from Worcester, who has netted 17 goals this season, is now 40 years old and has also played for West Brom, Coventry, Oldham and Kidderminster, among others.
If selected today he would become the first player to play at Darlington’s last three homes. He was in the Notts County side that won 5-0 at the Arena in April 2010, and played for Worcester when they lost 5-1 at Heritage Park last October.
* Darlington Rugby Club’s game today has been moved to The Northern Echo Arena.
A spokesman said: “Darlington Mowden Park have kindly opened their first team pitch to Darlington Rugby Football Club, allowing them to face Whitley Bay Rockcliffe in Darlington. The fixtures clashed with DFC’s final home game and Whitley Bay Rockcliffe could not change the fixture date or time to allow the first 15 to play at home.”