DARLINGTON manager Alun Armstrong is hoping his team’s late start to the season doesn’t affect them too much as they finally kick off against Prescot Cables in the FA Cup second qualifying round this afternoon.

The leagues above and below the National League have already started their season, and Prescot, who are based near Knowsley on Merseyside, have played four games in the NPL North and West League (the old EvoStik First Division North) and FA Cup, in which they’ve beaten Colne and Sunderland RCA.

“Prescot are well into their season and have already played four games – we haven’t kicked a ball yet,” said Armstrong. “It’s so difficult trying to work things out. I told the lads after our practice match last Saturday that we were a little bit boring and predictable, and that we need to turn things on and make sure that we’re up for the game. Prescot will be really looking forward to the game and will fancy causing an FA Cup shock. We were in their position last year when we went to Walsall in the first round and drew, so we must make sure they don’t cause an upset. The boot is on the other foot.

“This close season has been so hard regarding planning because at times we couldn’t organise friendlies or pre-season games or facilities weren’t open. Lads have had to look after themselves or go on furlough – but other clubs have been the same. It’s been so surreal trying to get everything going again. Doing things has never been so difficult.”

Armstrong will be missing only one player today, the unfortunate Jamie Holmes who has suffered a second cruciate ligament injury that will keep him out for the season.

The five summer signings – keeper Johnny Saltmer, former Bolton defender Nicky Hunt, former Boro defender Tony McMahon, and strikers Luke Charman from Newcastle and Dan Maguire from York – are all expected to be included in the squad. The team will be skippered by midfielder Will Hatfield, as previous captain Terry Galbraith turned down the offer of a new deal and has returned to his previous club Dunston.

“We have captains all over the pitch this year - Tony McMahon, Michael Liddle, Nicky Hunt - we didn’t really have that last year,” said Armstrong.