MARTIN Gray has paid tribute to former Darlington manager Dave Penney and insists he has earned his chance to manage Oldham Athletic.

Gray takes charge of Quakers’ final game of the season at Chester tomorrow, before teaming up again with Penney.

Goalkeeping coach Andy Collett is part of Penney’s plans at Boundary Park where the ex-Doncaster manager signed a two-year contract yesterday afternoon.

He had two years on his Darlington deal to run, but Oldham do not have to pay compensation with Quakers being in administration.

The financial chaos has meant Penney endured a turbulent season but his standing within the game remains high with two promotions at Doncaster plus last season’s play-off place with Quakers making for impressive reading on his CV.

And Gray says that record has earned Penney his chance in League One.

“If you ask any of the fans or people within the club they would say they were expecting it,” said Gray. “It was always a case of when and not if he would leave because he has been linked with numerous clubs ever since he’s been here.

“Dave deserves his move after what he has done for this club and after what he achieved at Doncaster. His CV stands up to anyone’s as far as I’m concerned.

“He will go a long way. He is very highly thought of within the game and you don’t get a job at a club in a higher level if you’re not ambitious, successful or have a good name in the game and Dave has a very good reputation.

“He does the job right so he gets talked about in the right circles.”

In 2004/05 Penney led Doncaster to tenth in League One and in October 2006 he was appointed Darlington manager under the regime of chairman George Houghton.

During two-and-a-half years in the North-East he built a squad that twice came close to promotion; denied in the play-offs last season and by administration this time around.

All of the players at the club were brought in by Penney, while Steve Foster, Tim Ryan, Ricky Ravenhill and Gregg Blundell also played under him at Doncaster.

Before heading to Boundary Park Penney said his farewells to the squad yesterday at The Northern Echo Darlington Arena and Gray revealed it was a difficult occasion for several players.

He said: “The players had an idea what was coming as it was impossible to keep quiet.

He sat them down this morning and told them it would be his last day at the club.

“It was quite hard because for a lot of these players today will have been the last time they work with Dave. So it was quite emotional for some of them because a lot of them have worked with Dave for a long time.

“He’s a players’ manager, he doesn’t shout, scream and bawl at them.

“They trust him and they are all his players, he brought them all here. He had a very good rapport with the players and they will miss him.”

There are no tensions either between Penney and the supporters, but Houghton is now reviled by many fans who blame him for the Darlington’s demise.

Although former chief executive Jon Sotnick played a major role in bringing Penney to the region, it was Houghton’s vision that secured his surprise arrival.

“The ambition of the chairman originally brought him here,” explained Gray.

“The chairman told him he was going to take the club all the way to the Premier League, he also told him there was going to be an academy on land at the stadium and that the funds would be there to build a squad.”

However, Houghton put Darlington in administration on February 25, and Gray added: “Dave has conducted himself correctly throughout all of this.

“On the day we went into administration he could quite easily have said enough is enough and walked away but he didn’t, he stuck by this club.

“A lot of credit goes to Dave for keeping the players focused.

“Since administration the aim has always been to finish within ten points of the playoffs so we could say that’s where we should have been.

“We lost matches because the players’ heads were all over the place which is understandable and that’s through no fault of our own, that’s down to one person.”