HAVING started their season with an FA Cup shoot-out win over Prescot Cables at the weekend, Darlington expect the difficulty level to crank up a fair few notches when they kick-off their National League North campaign at AFC Fylde this evening.

Whereas Prescot Cables ply their trade two divisions below Quakers, Fylde were one win away from the Football League when they lost the National League play-off final to Salford City two seasons ago.

Last term proved rather more difficult for the team from the Lancashire coast as they were relegated from the Conference, winning just nine of their 37 games.

However, they have regrouped this summer, signing Jordan Hulme from Altrincham at the end of last week for what was described as a “significant sum”, and start the new season with the openly-expressed intention of bouncing back to the National League at the first time of asking.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge,” said Quakers assistant Darren Holloway, who is standing in for Alun Armstrong in the technical area as the Darlington boss completes a touchline ban that was carried over from last season. “They’re one of the favourites to go up this year.

“With all due respect to Prescot, Fylde will be a lot bigger challenge. We’re expecting a really tough game and hopefully the lads will spark into life, knowing that it’s going to be a real challenge.”

David Atkinson will miss tonight’s game with a groin problem, but Dan Maguire will have a late fitness test on the hamstring problem sustained in the recent friendly against Hartlepool that kept him out of the Prescot FA Cup tie.

Darlington’s reward for seeing off Prescot Cables is another home tie against opposition from the NPL North and West Division in the FA Cup third qualifying round. Quakers will host Tadcaster Albion on Tuesday, October 13, with yesterday’s draw having once again proved relatively kind.

Spennymoor, who start their league campaign at home to Farsley Celtic tonight, will travel to fellow National League North side Chester, Marske United will host Blyth Spartans, York City will travel to Chorley, and South Shields have been drawn away to Southport.