DARLINGTON are back on home soil on Saturday with Simon Ainge having returned to frontline duties since Quakers were last at Blackwell Meadows.

It has been four weeks since the defeat to Spennymoor Town, followed three days later with a game against Hartlepool United in the Durham Challenge Cup.

In the meantime Darlington have picked up four points away from home, two players have signed – Wilson Kneeshaw and Sam Muggleton - and last week in the 1-0 win at Blyth Spartans Ainge started as a striker again.

Not since November had he played in the position he was brought to the club last summer to play, but various factors combined leading to a period in the centre of defence where he looked assured, which was no surprise given that’s where the 30-year-old has spent most of his career.

Now manager Tommy Wright wants to give the target man a run of games up front in Quakers’ final 13 fixtures.

“There’s lads that can still make a really positive impact, Aingey and Alex Henshall particularly. They are two players that can make a bit of noise this year,” said Wright, whose team face Southport on Saturday.

“We’ve got 13 games to go and Aingey needs one to go in off his backside, that would get him up and running.

“His eyes lit up with a chance at Blyth and I think he fluffed his lines a bit. He knows he should’ve headed the ball back across the goalkeeper where it came from, he’s done it hundreds of times in the past but for whatever reason he didn’t so it was quite an easy save for the goalkeeper.

“He’s finding his feet again, he’ll start landing in the box a little bit more and once he gets one opportunity he could go on a bit of a run.

“I brought him in as our marquee signing. It started well and he scored three goals in his first five games, but then he had to go to centre-back.

“And then he got injured in training and it went downhill after that, but he got three goals in his first five games as a Darlington player and Reece Styche probably scored two or three off the back of Aingey, so it all looked rosy then.”

Having scored a hatful of goals for Harrogate Town – 33 in the calendar year of 2017 - Ainge is not alone in not yet living up to supporters’ pre-season expectations.

But, with a third of the season to go, there remains time to come good, and Wright added: “I really want the fans to get behind him. It’s easy to right people off, we all have short-term memories at times and we need to remember he had a good start with us and scored a lot of goals for Harrogate.

“He will score goals and just needs a run in the team now because he can be a handful for any team in this league.

“I experienced it myself, you’re having a purple patch and scoring goals, but then you get injured and when you come back you don’t feel like the same player and your confidence goes down.

“He hasn’t turned into a bad player overnight and I won’t let anyone convince me otherwise because he will score goals for this club.”

While Ainge’s strength is winning aerial balls, Darlington are not a team that relies on crosses into the penalty area, their approach is more varied.

Wright points out: “I don’t think you necessarily need to be putting in 20 crosses into the box during the game. You have to try and penetrate wide and through the middle, you have to evolve and find a way that works in each game.

“We’re not going to shell the ball in from everywhere because Simon Ainge is in the team, but if the ball does go into the box I expect him to be on the end of it.

“He doesn’t rely on pace. When you’re that kind of player, a big lad, you don’t need pace. Ainge needs to get into the box and he needs deliveries and he needs to get his timing right.

“I think there’ll be opportunities for him. We put a great cross in on Saturday, and Sam Muggleton coming into the team with his throw-in will provide opportunities.

“Stephen Thompson can score any sort of goal, Jordan Nicholson plays between the lines and will shoot from distance and can unlock doors, when Harvey is up there he wants the ball over the top for his pace and Aingey thrives on balls in the box.

“We’ve got to be versatile as a team and play to the players’ strengths.

“We will get it right. We have had a reshuffle in the final third, but the lads are starting to gel again now.”

With 13 games to go, Darlington face the prospect of completing the final third of their season with little to play for other than jockeying for position in no-man’s land.

Having won last week at Blyth Spartans, the bottom three positions are nine points below, so it would require a monumental collapse for Quakers to be sucked into the dogfight. Conversely, only a remarkable run of wins would propel them into the play-off picture.

Wright is not making any bold play-off predictions, but clearly wants to achieve a finishing position better than last season.

His team currently has accrued two more points than it had at this stage last season, and he said: “We have to aim to be better than last year. I have spoken about getting into the top ten as quickly as we can and then see what happens.

“I want to be better off than we were last season, when we finished in 12th place with 55 points – I want to better that.

“It’s been a disruptive season. Players leaving has wobbled us a little bit, but if we can finish strongly we can take a bit of momentum into next year.”