CRAIG LIDDLE'S loyalty to Darlington has never been in question, but the last few weeks have highlighted just how strong his love for the club is. Had it not been for Liddle, it's difficult to imagine where the club would be today.

Beneath chairman Raj Singh's drive to reduce the wage bill and his threat to walk away if he is not given the help he desires from Darlington Borough Council, the playing staff have been trying to focus on Blue Square Bet Premier duty.

But, if it has been difficult for the players to concentrate during uncertain times, they should spare a thought for the man leading them in a caretaker capacity until Singh decides when the time is right to appoint Mark Cooper's successor.

Liddle, the youth team manager, has been operating in a dual role since being asked to fill Cooper's position for the short term nearly three weeks ago.

But the last 48 hours have provided a reminder - if one was needed - of just how much work the fans' favourite has been putting into helping the club try to turn things around.

Thursday started when he led first team training at Norton & Stockton Ancients without any assistance from an acting No 2. Then, after leaving training ten minutes early, he drove to Durham to oversee his youth team's session.

If that wasn't enough, after yesterday's final pre-match first team session he drove to Rotherham for a youth team fixture before jumping on a train to join up with the first team in a hotel ahead of this afternoon's mid-table match up with Ebbsfleet.

"I'm picking a youth team in my head at 4am when I'm supposed to be sleeping and then when I wake up I am picking a first team," said Liddle, still smiling despite his lack of sleep during a week in which he led the juniors to an FA Youth Cup third round tie at Newcastle United.

"It does get muddled but I like to think I am organised. I am running a tight schedule. This weekend it was about getting a result at Rotherham on the Friday and bombing down on the train to Ebbsfleet to meet up with the squad before trying to get a result on Saturday.

"I leave the house at 8.20am to drop my daughter at school and don't get back until 8.30pm at night. It's long hours, crazy hours. On top of that I have to get my son to Middlesbrough's academy for training three times a week. That's my parental role kicking in."

It has been a strange sight at Norton. For a squad of professionals, in whatever division, it is unusual to see one man take training on his own. Physio Ali Logan is hanging around, but it's Liddle preparing the drills and doing all the coaching - on his own.

When he does have to depart early, mainly to head up the road to prepare sessions for the youngsters, he has asked experienced heads Ian Miller and Graeme Lee to oversee proceedings.

"The players have responded to me well and they know the schedule I'm faced with and just got on with it," said Liddle, who has been impressed by the attitude of those under him.

"I have tried to change the formation, getting the players to play from the back and that's been pretty evident. Hopefully the win against Telford has given the lads that belief."

After the disappointment of a FA Cup exit at the hands of Hinckley United, Liddle won his first game in charge when Telford travelled to The Northern Echo Arena a fortnight ago.

Since then they have lost James Walshaw, John Campbell, Michael Brough and Greg Taylor, while Exodus Geohaghon is on the verge of a move to either Dagenham & Redbridge or Mansfield.

Darlington will also listen to offers for their other players, particularly big earners Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Liam Hatch, and Liddle admits to not knowing when the stripping of assets will stop.

"I have no idea whatsoever. It's a case of just get on with it," said Liddle. "We have moved a few salaries on. It's about getting the wage bill to a sustainable level."

Ebbsfleet, managed by former Birmingham defender Liam Daish, are just a place below Darlington in the league and have lost four of their ten home matches at Stonebridge Road.

"The break (on FA Cup weekend) came at a good time because there have been a lot of things going on," said Liddle, who has included youngsters Dale Hopson and Jordan Nixon in his squad.

"I have got a squad of 18 at Ebbsfleet, including a couple from the youth team. That's where we are at the moment. Ebbsfleet are a decent team but I would like to think we are more than capable of delivering against any team in the this division."