RARELY, in recent years, has there been an occasion when Darlington have had the luxury of resting a player who exudes the presence influential defender Craig Liddle commands out on the pitch.

But that is exactly what manager David Hodgson will do tomorrow afternoon when Quakers take on Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.

Despite last week's impressive 4-0 win over Southend, Hodgson remains typically realistic and refuses to get carried away by one good result.

The Quakers boss will name an unchanged line-up tomorrow, challenging his players to prove that last Saturday's resounding victory was not just a flash in the pan.

And while the sight of Liddle on the bench for a second week is almost inconceivable, such a decision is a clear sign of how far the club has progressed under Hodgson's 11-month tenure.

"With all due respect, I can't change the side because the Southend performance was as perfect as you're going to get," said Hodgson.

"Are they able to continue to do that? The true test will come on Sunday. That is when we will see whether we have the ability, defensively and offensively."

Liddle was an unused substitute against Southend - after recovering from a shoulder injury - and the former Middlesbrough man spent time at Lilleshall this week to undergo treatment on a leg problem.

However, Hodgson is confident the 32-year-old will return to his plans a stronger player.

"We now know why Lids has not reached the levels of fitness he is capable of reaching in the last six years," said Hodgson.

"The big plus for us is that we know we're going to get him back to the player we know he is.

"There was a point where Lids stood out alone and his name was the first to go on the teamsheet."

But after signing Alun Armstrong, Craig Hignett and Clyde Wijnhard in recent weeks, Hodgson added: "Lids is now part of a very good group, which goes to show that as a football club we are progressing and Lids is moving forward with us.

"He's still a key player at this club and I have no doubt that it will only be a matter of time before he is back in the starting XI.

"But as long as we are doing well, Lids knows he has to earn his place back in the side, like everybody else."

While Liddle plays the waiting game, Hodgson can rightly justify including Armstrong and Wijnhard in tomorrow's line-up.

The pair almost single-handedly disposed of Southend seven days ago, with Wijnhard capping his Quakers debut with a goal and Armstrong opening his account with the first hat-trick of his professional career.

However, Hodgson believes Quakers must build from the back if they are to come away from the Kassam Stadium with a positive result.

"I don't know if we are going to score goals but I do want to know if we can keep a clean sheet," said Hodgson.

"We can either go there and play like we did against Southend or we can let Oxford dictate the game.

"We will know on Sunday at a quarter-to-five."

Hodgson will keep faith with Brian Close, Joe Kendrick and Matt Clarke at the back, with Curtis Fleming out for another month (knee) and Joey Hutchinson sidelined until March with knee ligament damage.

"I wouldn't necessarily have put Joe Kendrick in there because he's not a natural centre-back," said Hodgson.

"But he did show during pre-season that he can play as part of a back three.

"I brought Brian Close in last season because I see him as an eventual replacement for Lids.

"It is ironic that he is in there ahead of Lids at this present time."

It was just days before last season's corresponding fixture at the Kassam Stadium that Hodgson succeeded Mick Tait in the Quakers hot seat.

But it was caretaker boss Martin Gray who took charge against his former club as David McGurk and Danny Mellanby were sent off in a 3-1 defeat.

Hodgson is well aware of the threat the Us pose this time around, with Middlesbrough-born striker Tommy Mooney leading the attack.

The 33-year-old joined Oxford in the summer after scoring 20 goals in the old Second Division for Swindon last season.

"Oxford have good players and Tommy Mooney is a player I would loved to have signed," admitted Hodgson.

"They've had a little bit of a dip in form and we have to make sure we keep it that way until after Sunday.

"If we can get back-to-back wins that will give us a big lift for the next home game."