CARRIED off the pitch shoulder-high by some of the hundreds of jubilant fans that had invaded the pitch at Whitby while celebrating promotion.

That’s how Martin Gray will be remembered by many, as a successful Darlington manager, one who helped the club clamber back to its feet following the financial meltdown of 2011-12, giving supporters some fantastic times along the way.

Fans who had not enjoyed a promotion since 1991 saw Quakers go up three times under Gray with finishing positions of first, second, second, first and fifth.

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The play-off semi-final victory over Spennymoor Town in 2015, the dramatic last-ditch wins against Salford City, the title-clinching 7-1 success at Whitby following which Gray was held aloft by fans, all of these memories and more came on his watch.

Seventeen back-to-back wins in the Northern League, going up through the play-offs in 2015 and winning over 100 points en route to winning the Northern Premier League in 2015-16 were fine achievements too, worthy of being in a bold typeface on his CV.

What will not be mentioned is an appalling record in cup competitions.

Quakers have fallen at the first hurdle in each of their last three seasons in the FA Cup, and their FA Trophy statistics are not much better.

It is not without some irony that he joins York City following Gary Mills’ sacking after losing to South Shields in the FA Cup, which is exactly what Darlington did a fortnight ago.

Such disappointments are a stain on his record, tarnishing a legacy also tainted by the events of the past six months.

Most summer signings did not work out, only Dom Collins has become a regular starter, and now new joint-managers Sean Gregan and Brian Atkinson must attempt to halt the slide of a team in freefall.

They are 12th with one win in ten league games and have developed an over reliance on playing high balls to tall striker Mark Beck, though a glut of injuries hampered Gray greatly.

It’s his comments during a fans’ forum last April, however, that caused concern for some supporters and the moment still rankles today.

Hurt and feeling let down by the board’s failure to ensure that Blackwell Meadows had sufficient covered seats, meaning the club were not allowed to take part in the play-offs, Gray felt he had licence to say whatever he liked.

He’d long felt external investment in the fan-owed club was required, and this was his opportunity to say it publicly, so announced in front of an unaware board that he’d been in talks with a local businessman about buying a share in the club.

Some fans agreed it was the necessary next step, though not all shared his view, especially when the identity of the investor in question proved to be Raj Singh, who was the man at the helm during Darlington’s Armageddon of 2012, so the proposal soon hit the ground.

Gray’s shock move caused rancour and uproar. An act of betrayal? Not at all. He had simply seen the opportunity for the club to progress, in his opinion, and for him to fulfil his own ambition of being the man to lead the club back into the EFL.

It was an ambition he mentioned occasionally over the past five years and one he would dearly loved to have achieved.

It did not happen, circumstances intervened, but he leaves Darlington in an infinitely healthier position compared to when he took over – when there were only two players on the books – and, in truth, it’s a move that suits all parties.

Gray gets to work with squad of full-time professionals and a vastly-increased budget – believed to be £1m a year – and no longer has to worry about ground grading requirements or whether the fans will raise enough money, while Darlington have a fresh start, which is perhaps one way out of their rut of poor form.

Atkinson and Gregan need some better results which, ultimately, is how a manager should be judged.

Given the paucity of success at Darlington in any era you care to mention, the period 2012-17 can only be viewed as a triumph, and for that Gray should be applauded.