With scouts flocking to Blackwell Meadows for a glimpse of Luke Charman, Darlington start 2022 anticipating the exit of their star player. They have been here before very recently.

Because the summer of 2021 saw Erico Sousa and Adam Campbell move on, Quakers’ two key players of last season.

They chose to depart for professional football, which will also be Charman’s destination when he goes, which will be this summer if not before.

Losing Charman will be a blow, but at least Quakers will receive a transfer fee, whereas Sousa and Campbell were out of contract so moved to Grimsby and Gateshead respectively for free.

They were among 13 players who departed after the end of last season, some through their own choice, others Armstrong chose to move on.

The outcome was a rebuilding job reminiscent of the time Armstrong and Darren Holloway replaced Tommy Wright at Darlington in May 2019.

They had built a squad over their first two years, but last summer was time for a revamp, something Armstrong admits he realised was necessary following the manner of last season’s deeply disappointing conclusion.

League games were abandoned in January due to Covid, yet Quakers remained in the FA Trophy and after advancing through four rounds before were handed a winnable home tie with Hornchurch, the lowest-ranked team in the competition. Readers, you know what’s coming next.

A meek performance led to a deserved Darlington defeat. Of the 13 players who were on the field that day, eight are no longer with the club.

The defeat to Hornchurch, who went onto win the final at Wembley, does not linger and that’s probably to do with games then being played behind closed doors. Fixtures felt like friendlies, they did not appear to mean as much and results – good and bad – were quickly forgotten.

Thankfully, season 2021-22 has seen supporters return and in the first half of this campaign they have watched Armstrong attempt to bed in a raft of new signings, but they’re yet to enjoy a good run.

With 20 league games played Darington are 14th with six wins.

The league position would probably be better had Armstrong been able to bring in defenders when they were clearly required in the summer.

He quickly realised Brandon Taylor and Lexus Beeden are not good enough and shipped them out on loan, and in have arrived Danny Ellis and Jake Lawlor, two experienced centre-backs who look the part.

Across the pitch there are players who appear to be better than those who wore the shirt last season.

Goalkeeper Tommy Taylor looks a more assured presence than Jonny Saltmer, full-backs Kallum Griffiths and George Smith have been useful additions, Alex Purver and Danny Rose do a job in midfield while the creative Jack Lambert could follow Charman into full-time football if he can find some consistency.

Up front, Jake Cassidy is the target man Quakers had lacked in recent seasons.

Finding a formation which successfully accommodates both Charman and Cassidy has been a dilemma for Armstrong: 4-4-2 weakens the midfield, whereas 4-5-1 means Charman having to play on the left.

Nonetheless, there have been some good performances. The team demonstrated what it is capable of with wins against Brackley and Fylde, who are currently top and third respectively, but there have also been disappointments.

The 3-0 loss following a dismal performance at Southport in October was the season lowlight so far while there was zero joy in the cups.

Quakers fell at the first hurdle in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy, though having had a dire cup record under Wright and Martin Gray there cannot be too many grumbles given the relative success the club has enjoyed during Armstrong’s two previous seasons.

While, on paper, the players at the club provide encouragement and hope for a stronger second half to the season, their fortunes depend on if Armstrong can hang on to Charman until the summer.