DARLINGTON MOWDEN PARK are hoping to start 2019 in style as they play their first game of the year at The Northern Echo Arena this afternoon.

Danny Brown’s side welcome National One leaders Old Elthamians to the Arena in the first of what is likely to prove a defining run of fixtures.

Mowden currently sit in tenth position heading into the second half of the season, but Brown is optimistic about what the rest of the campaign might have in store.

“We’ve had a tough start to the season and we’re obviously below where we’d like to be at this stage,” said the director of rugby. “Although the results haven’t gone our way, we are working harder than ever to put in the performances which will in turn lead to results.

A depleted Mowden side suffered a narrow defeat away at Rotherham in their final game of 2018 a fortnight ago, but Brown is encouraged to see a dwindling injury list as his side prepare to start the new year.

“It’s no secret that we’ve had a lot of key injuries in the first half of the season, with a lot of players having to play through injuries,” he said. “That isn’t ideal, but it shows the commitment of the lads.

“Just as we got one player back, we seemed to lose another, which limited our ability to have a consistent team selection. I am confident of the players’ ability and character though, and I hope we will see a shift in results.”

Brown’s side start 2019 with successive games against the top three sides in the table. They take on OEs and Blackheath at home, before travelling to third-placed Rosslyn Park.

“We know we’ve got a tough run of fixtures, but we’re looking forward to challenging ourselves again,” he said. “We beat both OEs and Blackheath at home last season and we know we’re always capable of beating anyone at home.”

A win this afternoon could see Mowden climb as high as seventh in what is the tightest National One season in years. Unlike in recent seasons, when the eventual champions looked nailed on at the turn of the year, this year’s promotion race looks like going to the wire.

“There isn’t a runaway leader in the league this year which we’ve had in previous campaigns,” said Brown. “Hartpury College and Coventry had led quite comfortably, but this year it’s much closer.

“The promoted teams have performed well so far and any team can beat anyone on their day. It’s made for a very tight league this year.”

With 14 games still to play, there is plenty of time for teams to change their league standing, but as is the case with most sporting bosses, Brown is reluctant to look too far into the future.

“It’s a cliche but we have to take one game at a time at the moment,” he said. “It would be a mistake to look past sides like Old Elthamians and we’re just focusing on our own game at this stage.

“We know that if we can start producing 80-minute performances, we can beat anyone in this league, and we’re looking forward to the challenge this weekend.”