DAVID Hodgson believes experience is paramount to Darlington's promotion aspirations - and former Feethams favourite Matty Appleby is the man to add even more.

Hodgson yesterday opened discussions with the Teessider, who is ready to quit Oldham and return to the North-East.

The 32-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and has told Latics' boss Brian Talbot he wants to leave Boundary Park.

Providing Oldham are willing to pay up the remainder of Appleby's contract, the Middlesbrough-born player has told Hodgson we will play for Quakers without pay until the end of the season.

Appleby trained with Quakers during pre-season, but a move failed to materialise after Oldham refused the player permission to play in a friendly at Whitby.

The former Newcastle United utility man missed all of last season with a thigh injury, although he has made 18 appearances this campaign.

Quakers have a wealth of experience in the squad, but Hodgson believes, with 13 games to go, Appleby's maturity will prove to be a valuable asset.

"At this stage of the season the move would suit us and Matt," said Hodgson. "He can come here and put himself in the frame, either for a longer deal with us, or a move elsewhere.

"Matt understands the financial situation we're in and he's told me he would play for Darlington for nothing."

Appleby played under Hodgson in the 1995-96 season and was part of the Quakers side which reached Wembley in the Third Division play-off final in 1996, before moving to Barnsley in a £200,000 deal.

"If there is one player guaranteed to give you 110 per cent it's Matt," said Hodgson. "He's fully committed and exactly the kind of player who would be an asset."

Hodgson could sign the player initially on loan in time to make his debut against Swansea City tonight (7.30).

Football League rules state a club can sign a player on loan two hours before kick-off.

Hodgson has also opened talks with Sunderland, with a view to signing Jonjo Dickman. The 26-year-old midfielder is out of contract at the end of the season and has been told he can leave the Stadium of Light.

Dickman played in a reserve game for Quakers last week and Hodgson hopes to sign the Hexham-born player until the end of the season.

Weather permitting, Hodgson is relishing tonight's League Two showdown with third-placed Swansea. The Williamson Motors Stadium pitch faces a 10.30am inspection.

The playing surface has been protected by covers since Friday, while youth team players, staff and fans helped clear snow yesterday.

Tonight's game can't come soon enough for Hodgson, who was unhappy with the reaction of fans after the home defeat to Notts County ten days ago.

"I can't wait," said Hodgson. "I wish we could have played Swansea in midweek, straight after the Notts County game.

"We came in for a lot of stick and now it's up to the players to stand up and show the character I know they're capable of."

Defender Matt Clarke hurt his back in Saturday's draw at Wycombe, but should be fit to face Swansea, who were held to a goalless draw by Grimsby at the weekend.

Ryan Valentine has improved after sitting out the Wycombe game with a virus. However, midfielder Stephen Thomas is a doubt after picking up a calf strain in training.

Swans defender Ezomo Iriekpen is doubtful with a groin strain, while Garry Monk serves the final game of a three-match ban. Midfielder James Thomas could earn a place on the bench after recovering from a knee injury.

* Damion Stewart played in Jamaica's CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying win over Trinidad & Tobago on Sunday. The 24-year-old defender is expected to sign a short-term deal with Quakers next week.

* Darlington Supporters Club are holding a fans' forum at the Corner Bar tomorrow night (8pm). Martin Gray and Mick Tait will be present to answer questions from fans and to discuss the youth team's recent success.