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Darlington Preview

By: Richard Hubbert
Date: 05/08/2004

THE long wait is over. After a summer of changes at every level within Blundell Park, the action all starts on Saturday when the Mariners travel to Darlington for their first game in the newly named Coca Cola League Two.

Home > 2004-2005 Season > Previews > Darlington (a)

Two seasons ago Town travelled to Norwich City for the opening fixture of their Division One campaign - two years and two relegations on and they find themselves in England’s basement division. At the end of last season, Town fans called for change - and change they have got. A few weeks ago Peter Furneaux stepped down as Chairman, to be replaced by majority shareholder John Fenty. Nicky Law’s reign as Town boss was soon ended as he was shown the door for failing to keep Town up. Former Scarborough boss Russell Slade has been given the unenviable task of steadying the ship - and he has hardly had a moment to catch his breath since taking the reigns back in May. A massive twenty players have left Blundell Park since then - and only seven first team players survive - McDermott, Coldicott, Crane, Crowe, Hockless, Young and Mansaram, along with youngsters Soames, Hildred and Wheeler. Slade has acted quickly and decisively in the transfer market and on the whole, the fans seemed pleased with his signings. His first signing was Hull captain Justin Whittle - who has a wealth of lower league experience and should organise a defence that last season leaked more than 80 goals. Ashley Sestanovich has performed well in pre-season and should provide a threat in attack. Michael Reddy and Andy Parkinson should be looking to both get into double figures in this division, whilst the acquisitions of Thomas Pinault and Ronnie Bull in midfield seem sound.

Though the proof, will of course come in the next 46 games. Town fans are cautiously optimistic - but not overly so. We were all optimistic last year and look what happened! After two years of misery - just avoiding relegation again would be victory in many people’s eyes. Russell Slade and his new team have the backing of all the fans, now it’s time to deliver.

The Opposition

Darlington have endured horrendous problems in the past few years - with changes at board and management level. George Reynolds resigned as their chairman in January amid chaos and the threat of extinction for the Quakers. Meanwhile, on the pitch, Darlo haven't really had a man at the helm for any great length of time in recent years, apart from Dave Hodgson (left) who is their manager now for a third spell. Mick Tait, Tommy Taylor, Garry Bennet and ex-Town legend Paul Futcher are just a few who have tried and failed in the Darlington hotseat. But Hodgson worked his magic once again last season when he took Darlington from the foot of the third division to a respectable 18th place, when they seemed doomed. This season though, could be a lot tougher for Hodgson. He is under severe financial limits and has seen star player Barry Conlon move onto pastures new with Yorkshire side Barnsley. This means that he will have to work hard with the players he does have - meaning that the move to make Middlesbrough academy coach Mark Proctor his new assistant, could be vital.

Their Squad
If Russell Slade is desperate to sign a striker - he can't be as desperate as Dave Hodgson who has been searching for a forward player of some description all summer. Like at Blundell Park, there have been many trialists been given a run out - and one of them, Sebastien Ferrero looked all set to get a contract after impressing Hodgson, until injury struck. This leaves Darlington light in attack with only Craig Russell and Leandro Scartiscini as their recognised out and out forwards. Former Sunderland player Neil Wainwright could play in up front though, as could defender Matt Clark. There has been little activity in the transfer market at the Reynolds Arena - but one notable signing is that of former Middlesbrough defender Curtis Fleming (left) who signed a one year contract a few weeks ago. Another former Middlesbrough player who will be in defence is Craig Liddle, who has made over 250 appearances for the club.

Key Player
Defender Joey Hutchinson is one to watch and is a key cog in the Darlington defence. The former Birmingham defender will be vitally important this season and indeed on Saturday against the pace of Parkinson and Reddy.

Head to Head

Town have the better head to head record against Darlo - winning 22 of the 43 matches they have met the Quakers. There have been 8 draws and 13 losses for Town. The first meeting was back in the 1885/86 season when Town thrashed Darlington 8-1 in the FA Cup.

P 43 W 22 D 8 L 13 F 71 A 46

Darlington Head-to-Head (9th on The Opposition Ladder).

Last Meeting

Town last met Darlington in the “old” Division Four, 15 years ago when the sides drew 1-1 at the Feethams in the April of the 1988/89 season. This was Alan Buckley’s first season in charge of Town, as he guided them to a 9th place finish in the division. Darlington meanwhile, were relegated from the Football League after finishing bottom of the division. Ex Town manager Dave Booth was their manager up until the February, when he was dismissed and Brian Little was replaced him. In the game itself., Kevin Jobling gave Town a lead at half time, before former Middlesbrough striker Gary MacDonald equalised for the Quakers. The Darlington side contained a string of ex Mariners with Neil Robinson, Phil Bonnyman, Paul Emson and current Town physio Dave Moore all involved in the game.

Darlington Team: Prudhoe, McJannet, Morgan, Hine, Dyson, J Willis, Robinson, Bonnyman, Stephens, Worthington, MacDonald.
Subs: (not used) Emson, Moore

Town Team: Sherwood, McDermott, Stephenson, Tilson, Williams, Cunnington, Jobling, Gilbert, Saunders, Cockerill, Alexander.

Attendance: 1,840

Team News


  • Despite not featuring in pre season, manager Russell Slade is optimistic that new signing Michael Reddy will be fit to play against Darlington. He has been struggling with a slight hamstring strain, but will travel with the squad. Unless he suffers a setback, he will be on the bench at least, though Slade is desperate to start the former Sunderland man.
  • The search goes on for a target man - Darren Mansaram has been handed a week to week contract and could start - but Ashley Sestanovich will fancy his chances of playing as the central striker after impressing in pre season.
  • Elsewhere, Ronnie Bull missed the last friendly with Halifax due to a thigh strain but should be fine to start the game. Slade said he was rested only as a precaution. Tony Crane will not be in the squad - he is expected to be out for around three weeks due to a knee injury. However, even if fit, Crane would not be able to play due to a suspension carried on from last season.
  • Darlington have no immediate injury problems - though manager Dave Hodgson is still hoping to add a forward to his squad before Saturday.
  • Curtis Fleming is expected to be given his debut in Hodgson’s preferred 3-5-2 formation. In attack, Craig Russell may well be joined with Leandro Scartiscini.
  • Probable Teams


    1Anthony Williams
    3Greg Young
    4Simon Ramsden
    6Justin Whittle
    8Jason Crowe
    11Stacy Coldicott
    15Terry Fleming
    16Ronnie Bull
    7Ashley Sestanovich
    9Michael Reddy
    10Andy Parkinson
    1Michael Price
    26Curtis Fleming
    2Ryan Valentine
    16Joe Kendrick
    4Craig Liddle
    6Joey Hutchinson
    7Neil Wainwright
    22Neil Maddison
    11Mark Convery
    14Craig Russell
    12Leandro Scartiscini



    19Darren Mansaram
    17Thomas Pinault
    18Rob Jones
    2John McDermott
    12Graham Hockless
    27Brian Close
    9Stephen Thomas
    23Sam Russell (GK)
    5Matthew Clarke
    8Ian Clark


    Fishy prediction: Town could do with a positive result to start their campaign and to end that awful away form that cursed them last season. Darlington will be up for the fight and keen to impress, but they seem to be lacking firepower up front and are desperately on the look out for striker. This could be a good opportunity then, for three points me thinks.

    1-0 to Town.

    Reader's POMs


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