FOR a club which has spent eight-and-a-half months in administration there is little to suggest Darlington have fallen any further behind their League Two rivals in that time.

Saturday's draw at Rochdale provided further proof that, if anything, Quakers have little ground to make on most of the opposition in the division.

The arrival of Craig Hignett is a clear sign that Quakers are now back in business, both on and off the pitch.

And without the shackles of administration and the promise of more new signings, they may be in a better position than most.

Not bad work for a club which almost went bust earlier this year.

But as Quakers prepare for a new era, manager David Hodgson believes further progress can only be made if they find some consistency on the pitch.

Seven days after holding early pacesetters Scunthorpe to a draw at the Williamson Motors Stadium, Hodgson wasn't satisfied with Saturday's performance.

"There was a bit of inconsistency creeping in and we know that is something we need to work on," said Hodgson.

"We were very erratic in the first half and I thought we were fortunate to come in at half-time in a position where we knew that if we could improve we could get something out of the game.

"I was surprised that Rochdale never capitalised on that in the first half but I thought our spirit earned us a point."

A debut goal from Hignett - partnering Craig Russell in attack - earned Quakers their third consecutive draw.

Hodgson said: "It's a great start for Higgy and I'm delighted for the lad.

"It took him about 20 minutes to get into the game but that's what you'd expect from a player who has played most of his career in the Premiership."

Hignett was brought in to the starting XI at the expense of Matt Clarke, who will hold talks with Bradford City this week over a possible move.

"There is a very good opportunity for Matt to move to a big club in his region," revealed Hodgson.

Leeds-born Clarke replaced the injured Joey Hutchinson in the 51st minute and Hodgson added: "It may be his last game but we will just have to wait and see."

Hodgson is confident Hutchinson will be fit to face Northampton this Saturday, despite picking up a knee injury following an accidental clash with Dale striker Grant Holt.

"Joey damaged some ligaments in his knee but I don't think it is too serious," said Hodgson.

In blustery conditions Leo Bertos - on target in Dale's 4-2 win over Quakers last season - brought a low save from Sam Russell after just four minutes.

And after Holt showed strength on the edge of the Quakers box, Gary Jones rolled the ball out to Bertos, who drove just wide of Russell's goal.

Dale continued to dictate proceedings and giant defender Gareth Griffiths almost stole in at the back post when he headed tamely wide from Tony Gallimore's searching crossfield ball.

While Holt continued to cause problems with his height, it was Neil Brisco who fired straight at Russell with 22 minutes played.

On the half hour mark Dale took a deserved lead through former Sheffield Wednesday striker Holt.

After Quakers failed to clear their lines in the box, he turned Craig Liddle on the edge of the six-yard box, before knocking the ball past Russell, to claim his fifth goal of the season.

It wasn't until the 42nd minute that Quakers contributed at the other end when Hutchinson blazed over after skilfully bringing the ball down on his chest.

Liddle was unlucky not to draw his side level shortly after the break when he headed Hignett's cross into the arms of keeper Neil Edwards.

Shortly after replacing the injured Hutchinson, Clarke almost gifted Dale a second when he allowed in Holt after a slip. He squared for on-loan Nottingham Forest winger Brian Cash, who took a poor first touch, allowing keeper Russell to collect.

The withdrawal of dangermen Bertos and Holt seemed to spur Quakers on as the home side lost their edge and in the 68th minute substitute Neil Wainwright struck the upright after losing his marker in the box.

With five minutes remaining Brian Close had the ball in the back of the net only to see it ruled out for a foul.

However, Quakers were rewarded for their persistence when Hignett pounced three minutes from time.

After neat exchange of passes between Ryan Valentine and Wainwright down the right, Liddle stubbed the ball across to Hignett at the back post, who did well to lose his marker and head past Edwards.

Hodgson will now turn his attentions to Saturday's visit of Northampton Town, where he will hope to have at least one new player in the squad.

After failing to land Leeds' Simon Johnson - who joined Sunderland on loan - Hodgson will hold talks with a midfielder and a striker, both with Premiership experience, this week.

Reports at the weekend linked Darlington with Sunderland striker Neil Teggart, who was on loan with Quakers last season, and former Middlesbrough forward Alun Armstrong.

"I have two or three players in mind and hopefully we will have at least one new face in this week," said Hodgson.

Result: Rochdale 1 Darlington 1.

Read more about the Quakers here.