MARTIN GRAY is hopeful that he will have a larger pool of players to choose from today at Curzon Ashton than he did seven days ago, when Darlington’s glut of enforced absences reached its nadir.

Six players were unavailable for various reasons for last week’s trip to Boston United, a 1-1 draw which saw Stephen Thompson score a penalty and Adam Bartlett save one at the other end.

The number of unavailable players totalled seven if Josh Gillies was included, the winger being named on the bench but considered too ill to play.

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Furthermore, Phil Turnbull and James Caton both limped off injured, with the latter now unavailable today due to the groin strain he sustained at York Street.

Turnbull suffered a hamstring problem which kept him out of training on Tuesday, but Gray is optimistic the midfielder will be fit, and he has a similar positive view of Mark Beck’s availability.

The striker was rested due to a knee problem that he also suffered with in pre-season.

“I’m hoping to have one or two back for the weekend,” said Gray.

“Turnbull’s looking alright at the moment, he’s responded well to treatment so we’re hoping he’s available.

“We’ve got attacking oppositions with Beck being back, hopefully.”

Tom Portas is in the squad for the first time in three weeks. A minor injury kept him out of action for a couple of weeks, and then his partner gave birth on the morning of Quakers’ trip to Boston.

The transfer-listed Kevin Burgess has two games of a suspension still to serve, while Gary Brown remains unavailable.

“It’s more likely to be a week on Saturday for Browny as long as the next week goes alright,” added Gray.

“A medical professional will have to give him the all-clear to play.”

Gray last week gave a debut to loan signing Adam Dawson, and today he adds to his squad new signing Paulo Mendes.

The 24-year-old was born in Portugal and moved to Britain four years ago, since when he has played for Vauxhall Motors, Nantwich Town, Colwyn Bay, Oxford City, Airbus UK and Redditch United.

He will not be Gray’s last new recruit as another player is due to arrive next week.

“I’ve got one coming in on Monday from abroad,” he explained.

“We’re waiting on international clearance. He’ll play his last game abroad this weekend and hopefully that will be sorted out next week.”

Today’s game is the only fixture in the National League North, having been arranged by the league as both clubs were available after being knocked out of the FA Cup a fortnight ago.

While it comes at a time Quakers are not at full-strength, Gray said: “We’ve got a few players back now and I’d rather play than have a free weekend.”

Brown and Burgess’ unavailability comes while Chris Hunter is also sidelined due to a broken ankle, leading to a reshuffle that has seen David Ferguson revert to left-back and Terry Galbraith move to the centre of defence.

Ferguson’s attacking forays have been missed, and one solution would be to select Jack Vaulks in the centre of defence.

He signed earlier this month from Northern League second division club Crook Town and has made four appearances as a substitute.

But, at 18-years-old, Gray believes Vaulks is one for the future and does not want to blood him just yet.

The manager said: “He’s not ready to start games. If everyone was fit I’d have him out on loan so that he can get some senior football and full games.

“He’s not ready to start at this level, not yet.

“He needs more men’s football but at the right level.

“He’s a level-headed lad, but he’s young and needs to learn.

“We have talked about it but we’re very happy with him, he’s got all the tools, he just needs to learn the game.”

Curzon are 16th, four places and three points behind Darlington, who would move to sixth with a win today.

Quakers won 2-1 at the Tameside Stadium last season, where the playing surface is known for its excellent condition.

“It’s a good ground to go to because the playing surface is great,” said Gray.

“It’s probably the best pitch in the league, it’s outstanding.”