A RELIEVED Martin Gray last night spoke of his delight at seeing three of his players agree deals to stay with Darlington, quelling fears there would be an exodus from the squad.
Mark Beck, Nathan Cartman and Phil Turnbull have all committed themselves to Quakers, each signing two-year deals.
Leeds-based Josh Falkingham left a week ago, going full-time at Harrogate Town, and there had been speculation regarding the future of other Quakers.
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Turnbull and Cartman were linked with their respective hometown clubs – South Shields and Halifax – while Beck was in demand with several clubs having sought his services.
The tall striker scored 18 goals and supplied numerous assists during his first year with Darlington, so Gray was particularly pleased to persuade a pivotal player to put pen to paper.
“He’s signed two years with an option, so a three-year contract. I’m buzzing,” admitted Gray. “It’s been my biggest worry because we couldn’t have replaced him, it would’ve been impossible to replace him.
“It would have changed the whole dynamics of what we had to do if he’d gone.
“He was in massive demand. Players are like anybody else, they’ve got to do what they think is right for their career and their family.
“But what he achieved this year helped massively to keep him here. He played nearly every minute of every game, which is something he had done before.
“We’ve managed him well, he’s scored goals and he’s going to get better.”
Beck has previously played for Carlisle United and Yeovil Town, plus loan spells with Falkirk, Workington and Wrexham, and Gray added: “He’s only 23 and can go back into the Football League if he has another good season. He’s a good age and can still improve.
“We’ve been working on this one since the last day of the season, it’s been a lot of hard work and I’ve got to thank the Supporters Group for giving me their support and allowing it to happen.”
Cartman scored eight goals this season, five of them coming in the final four months when he played more regularly following Liam Hardy’s exit, while midfielder Turnbull has been among the first names on Gray’s team sheet since signing two years ago from Gateshead.