Matchday preview: Gray prepares for battle with former club Darlington

The manager is obsessed with getting York promoted. Photograph © Ian Parker / Ice Photography
5 Jan 2018 @ 5.09 pm
| News, Sport

Manager Martin Gray will return to his former club when York City travel to Darlington this Saturday.

Darlington vs York City

Blackwell Meadows

Saturday, Jan 6th KO 3pm

After a positive start to the New Year, City are bracing themselves for a game with added spice, as Gray heads back to a club where his popularity has dipped sharply.

Gray is the most successful manager in Darlington’s history, after leading the team to three consecutive promotions and two league titles in five years.

However, his decision to leave his hometown club in October for a direct rival in York City, has proven to be a highly unpopular one among Darlo supporters.

Extra precautions have been made by Saturday’s hosts, who have fenced off City’s dugout in case of any unwanted trouble from home supporters who are still unhappy with Gray’s departure.

On the pitch, a win for City could see the side move into the playoffs if other results go their way.

Darlington however, are only two points off the drop zone, so a win on Saturday has much more importance than getting bragging rights over ex manager Gray.

‘Ignore the abuse’

York City Sporting Director Dave Penney looking to get one over the club where he use to work.

York City manager Martin Gray was not present at Thursday’s (Jan 4) press conference, with the club not wanting to fuel anymore anymosity against the manager ahead of Saturday’s match.

Sporting director Dave Penney stood in for the manager instead. He was keen to point out that three points is all that matters on Saturday and has warned City players to not get caught up in the Martin Gray abuse.

There’s obviously issues around this game, with Martin leaving the club for us.

What he did for that club was fantastic, achieving three promotions and two playoffs in five years to get them to this level.

But the three points is the most important thing.

The stuff about Martin is nothing to do with the players and we’ll be deflecting that away from them to make sure they get on with playing the game.

Dave Penney

Penney, who managed Darlington himself between 2006 and 2009, is expecting a tough match on Saturday and has warned that City need to step up their game, as other teams do when City come to town.

Darlington are a big, strong side with history and pedigree and they’re looking to get back to where they came from (the football league).

Tommy Wright (Gray’s successor) is one of my former players and he’s trying to stamp his own authority on the team, so we must make sure we are ready for the battle, stand up to it and make sure our qualities shine through.

We’re a big club, we’re a big scalp and everyone wants impress in front of our big home and away crowds.

We are the kind of game that people raise their standards for, so we have to make sure we are ready for that as well.

Dave Penney

York City team news

Burn extends stay

Jonathan Burn celebrating his first goal for York City away at North Ferriby. Photography © Ian Parker

There was some welcome news for the club on Thursday, as on loan City centre-back Jonathan Burn extended his stay with City until the end of the season.

The 24-year-old defender has started every game since arriving from Bristol Rovers in November and scored his first goal for the club in the Boxing day away win over North Ferriby.

I am delighted to be staying. The gaffer has asked me if I would sign until the end the season and it was a no-brainer.

I’ve settled in really well, the lad’s have been spot on and it’s been good for me to come here and get some football.

Since I came in Martin’s been trying to keep the clean sheet and we finally got one on Monday. Hopefully, we can take that into the game against Darlo and carry on.

Jonathan Burn

A settled team

Brothers in arms: Has Gray finally found a settled team? Photography © Ian Parker

After beating North Ferriby twice in their last two games, scoring six goals in the process and finally keeping a clean sheet for the first time in 17 matches, City may finally have found a settled starting eleven.

Middlesbrough loanee Alex Pattison made two outstanding performences in the last two games.

The attacking midfielder’s link up play with Aiden Connolly and Amari Morgan-Smith caused a constant problem for North Ferriby.

This along with the effective wing play of full backs David Ferguson and Josh Law, who provided assists for both of Parkin’s goals on Monday.

Ferguson and goalkeeper Adam Bartlett followed Martin Gray from Darlington to York City last year and will keep their places in the team on their return to the club.

Penney confirmed no new injury worries ahead of the game, although captain Sean Newton is being monitored ahead of Saturday’s match after missing the last few games with injury.

Midfielder Clovis Kamdjo is back in training after being out of action for 13 months and will play a reserve match against Grimsby next week ahead of his full recovery.

Darlington preview

Darlo’s classic black and white strip.

Like many clubs in the National League North, financial turmoil brought about a serious fall from grace for former football league regulars Darlington.

Darlington Football Club
Founded: 1883 (reformed 2012)
Stadium: Blackwell Meadows
Capacity: 3,300 (500 seated)
Nickname: The Quakers
Manager: Tommy Wright
League Position: 18th
Top Scorer: Josh Gillies (6)

After the club were put through administration three times in ten years, the Quakers were demoted four divisions in 2012 to the Northern League Premier Division by the FA.

This after only dropping out of the Football League for the second time in their history in 2010.

With the club’s reformation and new fan ownership, the club had to leave their oversized 25,000 seater Darlington Arena Stadium, for a ground they would have to share with minnows Bishop Auckland FC twelve miles from Darlington.

After achieving three promotions in five years under current York City boss Martin Gray, the club are now playing their football back in Darlington.

In 2016, the Quakers moved into a Darlington Rugby Club’s ground, Blackwell Meadows.

However, after guiding the club to a fifth place finish last season, Gray was denied a fourth promotion after the home ground was deemed unfit for purpose for the National League.

Quakers struggling under Wright

Darlington manager Tommy Wright

It has been hard work for Darlo manager Tommy Wright since taking the reins from Martin Gray in October.

The former Leicester, Barnsley and Aberdeen striker has managed only one win in his eight games in charge of the club. That victory came in an incredible 3-1 home win over high flyers Harrogate Town on Boxing day.

However, in the return fixture they were 3-0 losers on New Year’s day and are now sitting just two points off the relegation places ahead of City’s visit on Saturday.

Speaking to the club’s press team after that defeat, Wright is hoping that his side can repeat the performance in Boxing day’s game against City and is expecting a heated affair on Saturday.

The fans will be right behind us next Saturday and the lads will be massively up for it as well.

It’s got a lot of potential to be a very tasty game and I want to see the fight that we showed on Boxing Day.

We showed it for 45 minutes today (in the Harrogate defeat), but we let ourselves down in that second half.

Tommy Wright

Head to head record

Michael Rankine challenging for a header with Darlington defenders. Photography © Ian Parker

This will be the 115th meeting between the two sides. City have won in this fixture 48 times, with Darlington winning on 37 occasions and 29 matches finished a draw.

The last time the two sides met was back in August, when a crowd of nearly 4,000 witnessed an action packed 0-0 draw at Bootham Crescent, leaving City winless in their first two home games in the National League North.

York haven’t beaten Darlington since 2010, when two goals from Djoumin Sangare and Ashley Chambers gave City a 0-2 FA Cup second round victory at the Darlington Arena.

You have to go back 15 years to 2002 for the last time City beat the Quakers in the league. City won 1-0 at Bootham Crescent in the Coca Cola League 2 and can you guess who got the winner? That’s right, current City talisman Jon Parkin, who came off the bench to score his fourth of the season for Minstermen.

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Higgs Predicts

After smashing the 2-0 prediction last week, Higgs predicts is off to a flyer in 2018!

However, this Saturday’s thriller will be very hard to predict given the added interest off the pitch. Although City came through their last two games comfortably in the festive double header with North Ferriby, Darlington pose a much bigger threat.

Tommy Wright’s men will be fired up for the game, and will be expected to put in a good performance after making easy work of second placed Harrogate in their last home game.

Whatever the result, I think anyone would expect a tight affair at Blackwell Meadows. It seems City may have now found a settled team and are starting to play some good football.

If Parkin continues to get good service like he did from the two wing backs Ferguson and Law on Monday, then I don’t see why he won’t continue his scoring streak in this match.

Higgs predicts: Darlington 1-2 York City