Following Martin Gray’s move to York City, Darlington have endured a tough week with Brian Atkinson and Sean Gregan told by the Football Association that they are not allowed to become joint-managers. Deputy Sports Editor Craig Stoddart speaks to temporary managers Phil Turnbull and Gary Brown about the club’s plight and hopes for the future

ANOTHER tumultuous week in the chequered history week in the history of Darlington Football Club reaches its conclusion today at Blackwell Meadows when they play Stockport County.

Against fellow former Football League opposition, ordinarily it would be a fixture of interest, another reminder of how far Quakers have come since their Northern League campaign – five years ago yesterday they won 7-1 at Billingham Town.

But today’s game has received little attention during an eventful week since Quakers’ last fixture, a 1-0 loss at Curzon Ashton seven days ago.

A day later Martin Gray became York City manager, abruptly bringing to an end a five-and-a-half year tenure which included three promotions and alongside him the entire way were coaches Brian Atkinson and Sean Gregan.

They were due to replace him in the Darlington dug-out, it would have been their opportunity to prove themselves, to show they had the talent and tactical expertise to lead a team. They lasted just four days, however. Their work with the Martin Gray Football Academy represented a conflict of interests, say the FA, and something had to give, so on Thursday afternoon came their departures, setting a new club record for the shortest reign, beating Ryan Kidd’s game-less 12 days in 2010 after he replaced Simon Davey.

Next in line? Phil Turnbull and Gary Brown, experienced players with the full support of the club’s fans, will pick the team today after being asked by directors John Tempest and David Johnston to fill the void.

Turnbull and Brown will be without David Ferguson, however, as the left-back yesterday became Gray’s first recruit at Bootham Crescent with York having met the release clause in his contract, though Quakers have not revealed the transfer fee involved.

Ferguson, formerly with Blackpool, was the subject of interest from three EFL clubs in the summer and was one of just two Darlington players to have started all 14 league and cup games this season, and was joint-top scorer with four goals.

Following Ferguson to York will be Harry Dunn, who is to continue working for Gray as chief scout, but Adam Bartlett is staying put as he has turned down York’s approach.

The goalkeeper has been among the team’s most consistent players this season, so his decision to stay with Darlington is a huge boost to the club.

Turnbull is the other ever-present and will play today – his 99th Darlington appearance – with Brown on the sidelines, though the team spirit and bond in the squad will means minimal guidance from an authority figure is required.

“We’ve got the same team spirit as a good Sunday team, best mates doing it for each other, that’s what it feels like. We’re massive underdogs because of what’s gone on and we just want to prove to everyone that we can do it,’’ said the midfielder.

“We’ll stick together. We’ve got good friendships, we go on holiday together, there’s a lot of personal relationships there whether we have a manager or not.

“The lads are all going to be in it together, there’s not going to be anyone particularly in charge, we’ll be a unit.

“When Greegs and Atky were given the job they asked if we would give them our support, but the maturity of the players in our team means it almost runs itself. It only needs direction from a manager.

“But all the lads know their own job and they’ve got pride in themselves. Every week we go out trying to win, it’s probably a change in philosophy that’s needed.”

Brown added: “The changing room runs itself, we’ve got such a tightknit group in there. We won’t have to tell anyone how to do their job, everyone has got their personal pride and when you put that together you’ve seen what we can do. There’s no worries at all for me.”

The change in philosophy promises to be an alteration in Quakers’ tactics to a style based on a passing game, which is something Atkinson and Gregan had told the players would be central to their approach.

Gray’s Darlington relied on high balls to Mark Beck, but a different approach will be in evidence today.

“Martin has been successful, but we probably became too obvious,” said Turnbull. “We were a surprise package in that league last season, but we’ve probably been too predictable this season. We need to mix it up a little and play to people’s strengths more, let people express themselves as footballers and not go direct every time.

“I really do believe that will bring out a lot better from six or seven players.”

Last week’s loss to Curzon means Darlington have won only once in their last 11 league and cup games, scoring seven goals, and they are now 12th in the table.

It’s the lack of goals which has cost Quakers, having played well in some games but been punished for their failure to find the net.

Turnbull added: “Three games: North Ferriby, Southport and that game on Saturday at Curzon – we know we should’ve taken nine points from them three games, no two ways about it.

“If we’d have picked up the points that we should’ve done then we’d have been very comfortably in the play-offs.

“We’ve got no doubt about the quality in the changing room, but we need to get it right.

“The change in philosophy will do that, I think, it will bring out the best in a lot of the players.”

Turnbull and Brown are in charge for the time being, while applications for the vacant manager’s post are invited.

Interviews will take place on Thursday and Friday, so an appointment could be made by the time Darlington head to Nuneaton next Saturday, but Brown and Turnbull would have no qualms about still playing the part of boss in a week’s time, if required.

“We’ll do our best for as long as they want us to do it,” said Brown.

“Long-term, the club will want someone with experience and at this level I don’t think a player-manager works.

“One day it would be great to be a manager, but it’s probably ten years away for me.”

Having undertaken training on Tuesday, Gregan and Atkinson had been looking forward to their chance to step out of Gray’s shadow, so have been left deeply disappointed by the turn of events.

The players feel similarly. Instead, a new era beckons and Turnbull added: “Everyone is gutted for Greegs and Atky.

“Martin leaving was a blow, but we were still thinking that things were going to be similar, or maybe take a slightly different route. Those two leaving makes you think it’s probably going to be a different club now, so because of that it’s probably hit us even harder.”