HARVEY SAUNDERS has signed for Fleetwood Town.

He will remain with Darlington on loan from Fleetwood for the remainder of this season before permanently joining Joey Barton's League One side in the summer.

The 21-year-old, who only last month quit his job as a barista at Mango Bean in Darlington town centre, leaves Blackwell Meadows for an undisclosed sum, understood to be a five-figure fee, with clauses added.

Darlington manager Tommy Wright said: “Harvey has improved immensely this season, and he’s proved that he’s ready to make that step up to Football League level.

“Not only does he score goals, but he does a lot of positive things that people don’t see. He is eager to learn, and he takes everything on board.

“I’m sure that he’ll continue to improve and be a big success at Fleetwood.”

In total the youngster from Staindrop has netted 11 times in 71 games for Quakers, though 43 of those appearances have been as a sub.

He has used his blistering pace and high workrate to become a first-choice player at Darlington this season, scoring seven goals in 26 games.

Fleetwood head coach Barton said: “We are delighted to welcome Harvey to our football club.

“Given the history the club has with signing non-league players, this is a very exciting transfer for all parties.

“Harvey will return to Darlington for the rest of the season which allows him to continue his development, before returning to join us in pre-season.”

Saunders' name first appeared on the Darlington team sheet on the night of the 7-1 win at Whitby Town.

It was when Quakers clinched the Northern Premier League title at the end of the 2015-16 season, Saunders an unused sub a few months after Martin Gray had brought him in from Durham City.

In the first half of 2016-17 Saunders spent time on loan in the Northern League at Dunston UTS and Ryhope CW, eventually making his first senior appearance in Quakers colours when coming off the bench in January 2017 against Nuneaton.

In what was Darlington's second match at Blackwell Meadows, he almost scored with his first touch, his shot pushed wide by goalkeeper Christian Dibble.

Gray said at the time: “It’s only two years ago he was playing for Darlington RA, but his pace is exceptional and I just wanted someone that could stretch them.

"He’s got a lot of work to do, but he was a bundle of energy and on another day he could’ve got us a goal but it was a great save. He’s one for the future.”

His first goal came a couple of months later. Again it came as a sub, a header in a 2-2 draw at Worcester City.

As Gray looked to hone his talents in training, Saunders’ first 22 appearances were all as a substitute, though Wright was more willing to select the striker in the starting XI after he became manager midway through the 2017-18 season.

Quakers’ boss has worked closely with Saunders, he saw the potential in him and during the second half of last season the forward spent time on trial at Barnsley.

Speaking in October 2018, Saunders told The Northern Echo: “Tommy has been working with me, I’m improving and I want to be in that first team.

“He stays back after training and works with me. Every Tuesday and Thursday he’ll be there afterwards, I don’t even have to ask now, he’ll do extra with me and it’s about different types of finishing, composure on the ball.

“It’s simple details that bring you on, simple runs that he’s told me to do. He’s pretty much started from scratch with me."

He was on bench duty at the beginning of this season, the arrival of Simon Ainge to play alongside Reece Styche evidentially giving Wright options in the forward ranks.

However, the situation soon changed and an opportunity arose. Ainge sustained an injury, Styche was sold to Alfreton and since the end of September Wright has placed his faith in Saunders.

That faith has been repaid. Saunders has since started almost every game, scoring twice in a win at FC United of Manchester, in both of the home wins at Christmas against York City and Alfreton, as well as a hat-trick in the quarter-finals of the Durham Challenge Cup versus Stockton Town.

He will want to leave the club with a bang as he looks forward to entering the ranks of professional football for the first time.