Darlington's Northern Ireland youth international Brian Close is looking forward to finally getting his career started in earnest after a slow start to life as a professional in England.

Younger teammates such as and Clark Keltie and Ryan Valentine have already chalked-up well over 50 first-team appearances, while several others made their league bows as teenagers, but until March this year Close, 22, had been stuck in Middlesbrough's reserves.

The stocky Belfast man made 12 appearances for Quakers after joining towards the end of last season, deployed in both the centre of defence and midfield, and it was in the centre of the pitch where he most impressed with his incisive distribution.

He joined Boro's youth ranks at 17 and after failing to make the breakthrough at the Riverside, he is glad to be playing first-team football at last.

"I'm settled in the North-East and after speaking to Hodgy and listening to what he wants to do here I was happy to sign," said Close.

"I came in last year and enjoyed being here. We've got a good team and a good bunch of lads so I'm optimistic about what we can do. I'm expecting big things at the club."

Over the summer Close, who concedes his fitness hasn't always been as good as it could be, was given a special regime to stick to, and says: "I've just got to keep up my fitness work.

"Running isn't my strong point, as you might have noticed. I don't mind the short and sharp stuff, but I'm not one for long distances.

"I'm feeling better for the work I've done in the summer.

"It had to be done really, new players have come in so you've got to work hard in training if you want to be in the team."

Meanwhile, with the clock ticking down to the Saturday's League Two opener with Grimsby, Darlington's striker crisis shows little sign of being resolved.

Jon Shaw of Sheffield Wednesday had been earmarked for a loan spell but after a disappointing display against Everton on Tuesday, in front of a watching assistant manager Mark Proctor, Darlington have shelved those plans - and Stewart Yetton won't be coming either.

Proctor said: "Stewart did OK for us but we didn't think he'd be the answer right now. He's gone back to Plymouth and we're going to monitor his progress."

However, West Ham United teenager Gregory Pearson, who ended last season on loan at Nationwide Conference club Barnet, will join Quakers on loan if he impresses in training.

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