THE season does not kick-off for three more weeks but already Darlington are struggling with injuries that will affect their line-up for this evening’s game with Carlisle United.

Manager Mark Cooper, who is hoping to sign a defender, will again be without midfielder Gary Smith (ankle) and goalkeeper Kelvin Jack (hamstring) for the visit of the Cumbrians (7.30pm).

The match will be Quakers’ third pre-season friendly with Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday both having visited The Northern Echo Arena this week.

Tommy Wright limped out of Tuesday’s match against the Owls. The striker has a thigh strain but hopes to play some part this evening as does fellow forward Chris Senior, who suffered a dead leg versus Sunderland.

But Gareth Waite remains on the sidelines. The midfielder is not yet able to take a full part in training after undergoing a knee operation at the end of last season.

The injuries are preventing Cooper from utilising his full squad which is what Sheffield Wednesday did on Tuesday, using eight subs in the draw.

“We’ve got four or five big players missing so we’re having to give players more time on the pitch than we’d like to,” said Cooper, who had several youth team players on the bench on Tuesday.

“In a perfect world we’d make a lot of changes like Sheffield Wednesday did, but we can’t do that and we’re very mindful that we’re don’t want any more injuries.

We’ve tempered the training a little bit to make sure all the effort is going into the games.

“What I don’t to do is put youth team players in and then kill their confidence.”

Cooper, who has made an offer to a veteran defender who was in League Two last season, may give a run-out this evening to ex-Grimsby utility player and current triallist Jamie Clarke.

Sunderland defender Joe Cornforth remains on trial, and Cooper added: “Corey Barnes is back tomorrow and hopefully we might have another new face in as well.

“We’re looking for fresh bodies but they’ve got to be the right ones, we’re not just bringing anyone in.”

Meanwhile, Cooper has paid tribute to groundsman Gary Ventress. The club’s pitch underwent drainage work in May which was evident during Tuesday’s game when, despite torrential rain, there was no standing water on the playing surface.

That has not always been the case in previous seasons, and Cooper said: “The Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday people were delighted with it.

“Full credit to the groundsman, from the way it was last year he’s turned it around and he deserves a lot of credit for that.”