David Hodgson has tipped two of his dependable Darlington defenders to play at a higher level as the Quakers' back line continues to bolster the relegation fight.

Scoring goals may have been a problem for Hodgson's men but they've proved to be far better at stopping them, with only two Division Three teams conceding fewer goals in the last eight games.

Since returning to the club Hodgson has taken charge of 14 matches, but only twice have Darlington conceded more than one goal in game - against Hornhurch and Scunthorpe - and both matches included conceded penalties.

Matt Clarke and Joey Hutchinson have played integral parts in the back line which has helped record those statistics, making up two thirds of the three-man central defence, which also includes the ever-reliable Craig Liddle.

Liddle has been a defensive lynchpin with the club for almost six years, but Hutchinson signed in the summer from Birmingham and has been a hit ever since, while Clarke endured a difficult first term last season, but has improved tremendously this year.

His speed and tackling are strong points and Hodgson believes the 23-year-old has the potential to reach a high level.

He said: "There's a real shortage of left-sided defenders in the country and if he can maintain a mental attitude for 90 minutes more often he could find himself further up the League."

"I'm going to keep at him until I prove myself right.

"His distribution can be very good, but it's all about concentration and if he can do that more often and use his speed instead of sticking to his normal leisurely pace then we'll have a good defender on our hands."

Having left Birmingham last year, Second Division Swindon Town made a failed bid for Hutchinson this season and Hodgson fears he could lose the 21-year-old due to a clause in his contract.

"Joey is an exceptional player but unfortunately he's someone we could lose if a club came in with an offer of £1 above the clause in his contract," said Hodgson.

"I don't want to say what that figure is because it might alert some people, so for the time being we'll leave it as a mystery to some people.

"If you put him in the middle of a back-three his workrate is not as demanding as a left or right-sided centre-back because he's mainly doing a covering job.

"But because he's so quick I know that in the event of the opposition breaking away he's capable of dealing with it.

"I have spoken to Joey about his situation and I really hope he will stay.

"Until we beat Rochdale over a week ago we haven't been winning matches but defensively we've been very, very good and I hope that will continue."

* Lee Matthews will miss tomorrow's game. The striker, who spent a month at Darlington on loan earlier this season has returned to Bristol City from Bristol Rovers after picking up an ankle injury.

* Former Darlington target Tino Asprilla has signed for Argentinan side Estudiantes.