THE season starts next weekend and decisions will be made early this week on the handful of trialists hoping to earn a deal at Darlington, with former player Josh Heaton at the top of Alun Armstrong’s wanted list.

The defender is a free agent and played as a trialist for Quakers on Saturday, coming on in the second half of a deserved 3-0 win over Middlesbrough under-23s.

The 22-year-old is available after being released by St Mirren this summer, 12 months after Darlington sold him to St Mirren in a deal worth £75,000, but the Buddies only gave him two appearances.

Heaton finished last season on loan to Kidderminster Harriers and has recently been training with Harrogate Town, but he contacted Quakers about the potential of returning to Blackwell Meadows and Armstrong would like him in his squad.

He would provide competition for Terry Galbraith and Louis Laing, who are Armstrong’s current favoured centre-back pairing.

“He’s a talented footballer and we’ve seen that,” said the manager. “It hasn’t worked out for him at St Mirren, but I’ll always give people a chance and we could help each other.

“He wants to get back into the pro game, he’s still young enough for that, he can come in and learn.

“I told him to watch Laingy, just watch how he plays, and he turns around to me during the game and says ‘he’s a good player, him!’

“That’s the competition he’s facing to try and get into this team, which would be great for me. I said to Laingy ‘you could be comfortable in the team all season, but if you’ve got someone behind pushing you then you could be even better’. You need competition.”

If Heaton and Darlington can come to an agreement then he will be in the squad that travels to Farsley Celtic on Saturday, as will Bermudan winger Justin Donawa if Quakers receive international clearance in time.

“We’ve offered Justin a deal because I think he will be useful,” said Armstrong.

Donawa was included in Darlington’s annual team photograph taken on Saturday morning, and so too was Osagi Bascome, and while Omar Holness did not appear the midfielder could yet be in Armstrong’s plans.

“Omar did smashing,” said the manager, after watching Holness play for the majority of Saturday’s win.

“We still need a midfielder and I’ve got to make a decision on Omar, who was much better today.

“Enthusiastic, too enthusiastic at times! He’s just got to be a bit more composed. But he’s a willing learner, so why not.

“The fans love him here and I can see why, we’ve got to get him to understand what we need and what to do in certain parts of the game.

“Osagi is already involved anyway because of what happened last season, Lucas Bell came on and did really well. These are squad players that I will probably need to utilise in this first month of the season.

“I’ve got to keep an eye on the budget, I’m in constant contact with John Woolnough (finance director) to make sure that’s right.

“There’s a little bit of scope in there, but we’ve got to make sure it’s right.”

Johnny Burn and Mitchell Glover are under contract for another year but are not wanted by Armstrong and neither was in the team photo. Striker Cedwyn Scott, who played in a couple of Quakers’ friendlies, is no longer under consideration and played for Dunston UTS on Saturday.

Jarret Rivers scored twice in Darlington’s 3-0 win with Tyrone O’Neill getting the other goal during what was the team’s best performance of pre-season, playing some quick passing manoeuvres that pleased Armstrong and the fans.

Not that many supporters were present, perhaps some put off by the wet weather, but the conditions at least made for a pitch that can only have assisted the attractive passing game Armstrong has implemented.

Stephen Thompson had a penalty saved early on by Zach Hemming, but he then set up Rivers to score a close-range back-heel, and on-loan O’Neill’s goal, coolly-taken from inside the penalty area, against his parent club came after good work by Campbell and Rivers to make it 2-0 at half-time.

O’Neill and Campbell were also involved in the best goal of the day early in the second half. Galbraith’s pass forward led to Campbell and O’Neill exchanging passes, playing in Rivers to score from ten yards.

Darlington: Elliott; Trotman, Laing (Heaton 60), Galbraith, Liddle; Holness (Holliday 73), Hatfield (Bascome 60), Thompson (Bell 73); Rivers (Donawa 60), Campbell (Tyrell 79), O’Neill (Holmes 60).

Middlesbrough: Hemming, Hood, Robinson, Liddle, Storey, Dale, Folarin, Hackney, Walker, Georgiou, Jones. Subs: Barni, Burrell, Wearne, Gibson, Sykes, Flatters