DAVID HODGSON was last night hailed as the man to steer Darlington to safety by top scorer Barry Conlon.

Hodgson's third spell in charge at the club is now in its 17th day and he is already well aware of the huge task that lies ahead.

Darlington are just above the relegation zone - Saturday's draw with Lincoln took them a point above managerless Southend - and are already out of the FA Cup after an embarrassing defeat to Ryman League minnows Hornchurch.

But after spending the last couple of weeks under Hodgson's training schedule, Conlon is convinced chairman George Reynolds has installed the right man.

"There is a buzz in the changing room again among the lads," said the 25-year-old. "It's good for the team that the new man has come in.

"The lads have been sharper since Dave has come in; training has been sharper. Short and sharper. Every different manager has got different ideas and it just seems to be working. He seems to relate to the players very well.

"You could see by his second game in charge that he has had an effect already; that's because we have all been freshened up."

And Conlon, who has four goals this season, now hopes the Quakers can build on Saturday's point by going to promotion hopefuls Swansea this weekend and claiming a similar result.

"It may only be a draw against Lincoln at home but it is a step in the right direction," he said.

"Now we will have to go out against Swansea and build on it.

"The position we are in means we have to look for all the stepping stones in front of us, whether they are a point or all three points. We need to get back up that ladder and quickly."

The big Irish striker was making only his second appearance on Saturday since recovering from an ankle ligament injury sustained against Bristol Rovers on October 11.

Now, after playing for the full match, he is determined to build on the 32 goals he has scored for Darlington since arriving in July 2001 from York City.

Conlon said: "It's been good to get a couple of games under my belt and get my fitness back up.

"The gaffer told me to just play and give as much as I can for as long as I can and then he would take me off.

"I'm glad I got the full 90 minutes even though I was beginning to feel it with 20 minutes to go against Lincoln."

Conlon could have a new strike partner in the near future after Hodgson revealed he has made an offer to Exeter for former Quakers trainee James Coppinger.

Coppinger left Feethams for Newcastle in a big money deal with Paul Robinson in 1997, but made only a single appearance in a black and white shirt.

He had two loan spells at Hartlepool before his release from St James' and played against Hodgson's side for Pool in the 2000 play-off semi-final.

Coppinger is believed to be unsettled at Exter and would jump at the chance of a return to his native North-East.

Hodgson wants to sign the 22-year-old on loan with a view to a permanent deal.