NOEL WHELAN was said to be devastated after his fourmonth wait for first team football lasted less than two minutes of Tuesday’s defeat to Northampton Town.

But Darlington assistant boss Kevin Richardson has confirmed that the striker who suffered a recurrence of his hamstring problem still has a chance of playing a part in Quakers League Two survival bid this season.

The former Middlesbrough and Leeds forward joined the club on a non-contract basis in October and had been given the all clear to return to action after recovering from his niggling hamstring problem.

Prior to Tuesday’s brief substitute appearance Whelan hadn’t featured since Steve Staunton’s first game in charge – the away trip to Dagenham and Redbridge – but the manager has kept faith with the veteran target man whom he rates highly.

The sight of Whelan limping from the pitch shortly after he’d replaced Gary Dempsey was, Richardson noted, “a very sad moment”

but the 35-year-old has been backed to defy the doubters and make another bid to rescue his league career.

“He was devastated,” confirmed Richardson. “He’s fully committed to football and wants to be out there and playing. You could just tell on the lad’s face how frustrated he was and we are all gutted for him but he is the kind of lad who never gives up. Hopefully we’ll see Noel before the end of the season,” he noted.

“We thought he was alright to play but everyone who was here on the night saw just how cruel this game can be. Unfortunately for him he’s aggravated his hamstring. We’re waiting for results coming back hopefully the damage isn’t too bad.

“We expect him to stay with us and prove that he’s got something to offer. He’s got to start again but knowing the type of kid he is he’ll work twice as hard to compete for a place in the squad.”

In the meantime, Richardson hailed the influence of Darlington’s growing Irish contingent for helping restore confidence in the squad. Goalkeeper Shane Redmond this week became the fifth of Staunton’s fellow-countrymen to join Darlington in the last month.

Richardson believes the new boys are proving to be excellent role models for the rest of the team.

He said: “There is a different atmosphere at the club and the new arrivals have played a big part on that. The Irish lads have brought a winning mentality and that seems to be spreading to the rest of the players.

“They love their football and want to win. We had a setback against Northampton but I hope supporters could see we are a different prospect this year. We’re going to Cheltenham for all three points.”

■ Darlington fans have until 5pm today to vote for the club’s new home and away kits for next season. Fans can vote by logging on to darlington- All voters will be entered into a free prize draw, with a trip to Italy to see the new Errea kits being produced as the top prize.