DARLINGTON manager Alun Armstrong has told his players not to let the season come to an end in today's FA Trophy quarter-final against Hornchurch.

Quakers’ season in National League North has been declared null and void following a vote by the clubs after huge controversy over the nature of loans and grants as well as the availability of Covid testing, which means their only remaining interest for the season comes courtesy of the Buildbase FA Trophy.

If they lose today, then on the final whistle, their season will be over. Of course, they hope things won’t end just yet with a place at Wembley in the Trophy final on May 8 on the horizon.

“Everyone had a feeling that the league was going to be declared null and void, so I’ve been asking the players how much they want the season to continue,” said Armstrong, who yesterday completed the loan signing of Middlesbrough goalkeeper Sol Brynn, with the 20-year-old set to go straight into the squad for today's game.

“It’s down to them. We don’t want our season to end, we want it to continue, but we know we’re going to have a tough game against Hornchurch because they’ve beaten teams from above them in the competition so far.

“These sorts of games are tricky because, when you’re the underdog, you’ve got an extra incentive to win. Hornchurch have a manager who’s won the competition before and is very experienced. Our lads must make sure they're on top of their game, otherwise we’ll be turned over. But I’m quietly confident with the lads – everything has been building to this game in training over the last fortnight and getting more and more intense.”

Hornchurch, from the Isthmian League, are managed by Mark Stimson, who was a regular at Newcastle when 16-year-old Armstrong was an apprentice.

“I was only a youngster when I was going in during the school holidays and cleaning his Hi-Tec boots. I’m not sure whether he’ll remember me, but he was a great player at Newcastle and everyone really liked him.”

After playing for Newcastle, Stimson went on to play for Canvey Island amongst others and helped them win the Trophy, then as a manager he helped Grays win the Trophy in successive years and then again with Stevenage.

Armstrong defends Quakers’ decision to continue with their Trophy campaign now the league is over.

“I can’t understand why people think we should have withdrawn," he said. "Everyone knows the reasons why the league was null and voided, but there is money to be won in the Trophy.

“We don’t have a rich benefactor, instead the club is funded by the fans, so we need the prize money to keep going. Would Marine have pulled out of the FA Cup when their league stopped in November? I just think it’s petty by some other clubs to have a go at us – nobody seems to have said anything to Hereford or Hornchurch.”

Striker Luke Charman, who was injured in the last round, will be missing today, while another striker, Dan Maguire, needs a fitness test.

Quakers have been to this stage of the competition twice before against teams lower in the pyramid.

In 1990, they went to Leek Town from the Northern Premier League under Brian Little and were beaten by a second half goal, then under Mark Cooper in 2011 they beat Salisbury from the Southern League 2-1 at the Arena with goals by Gary Smith and Liam Hatch.

This is the second time today's opponents have met, as they came together in the FA Cup in 2003. The Isthmian League side won 2-0 in the first match of David Hodgson’s third spell in charge.