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Monday, October 05, 2009

Staunton takes up Darlo challenge

Bottom of the Football League, no league win all season, and eights point adrift of safety - a baptism of fire almost seems too kind an expression for the challenge facing new Darlington boss Steve Staunton.

The 40-year-old endured a torrid spell in his first managerial role as coach of his native Republic of Ireland team.

Lasting less than two years, Staunton was sacked after presiding over a poor qualifying campaign where they lost 5-2 to Cyprus and failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championships.

A spell as assistant to Gary McAllister at Leeds followed, but the former Liverpool player has never managed a club side himself.

Taking the reins at the Northern Echo Arena appears to be a risk for both club and man alike.

There's simply no time for learning on the job at Darlington - the Quakers need points and fast.

Carlisle, relegated from the Football League in 2004, were famously adrift after the first half of the season before Paul Simpson's side almost staged the most miraculous of recoveries.

Darlo, with just two draws from their first 11 games, already have fewer points and are further from safety than the Cumbrians were at the same stage when they finally lost their status in the 92.

Relegation would follow 20 years on from their first demotion from the Football League. Then, under Brian Little, the North East club bounced back at the first attempt before winning a second successive promotion as Champions the following season.

A immediate return to the basement division followed in 1992, and Darlington have been in League Two ever since, appearing in the play-offs on three occasions, twice in the final.

Staunton had an unsuccessful reign as Republic of Ireland manager

Now just remaining in the division would be an achievement after a turbulent summer which saw the club come close to going out of business altogether. In the end, a buyout by former vice-chairman Raj Singh saved the Quakers.

However, with almost the entire squad having left, new manager Colin Todd was forced to throw together a team in the final few weeks before the season's kick-off.

Unsurprisingly, the side began slowly, and Todd was shown the exit door after last month's 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers Grimsby Town.

After dispensing with the services of the experienced former Bolton, Bradford, and Derby boss, Singh has now decided to put his faith in the youth and untried talent of Staunton.

Singh is playing with high stakes though. Despite an additional promotion place from when they last played in the Conference, returning to the Football League after relegation remains a difficult feat.

Luton Town, only relegated last season due to their huge points deduction, are currently only toiling to compete for the play-offs as they discover that Non-League's premier division is not the walkover they thought it would be.

Even leaders Oxford, currently six points clear at the summit, are in their fourth season trying to escape having been demoted themselves in 2006. Darlington should be under no illusions how hard it would be to return quickly.

Which makes preserving their position in League Two and avoiding the drop even more important.

Singh has promised his new manager will have resources to spend to help strengthen an ailing squad, he must spend what he has wisely. However, failure to succeed and relegation will be Darlo's biggest price to pay.


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