Can Gary Martin help Darlington conquer the National League North?
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Darlington has turned to a local lad currently plying his trade in Iceland in a bid to boost their promotion prospects. Striker Gary Martin is expected to join the National League North side on a short term deal until April, prior to re-joining IBV for the start of the Icelandic season.
Despite IBV ending bottom of the pile in the ‘Úrvalsdeild’, 2019 was a year of personal triumph for the 29-year-old, finishing up as the division’s top marksman with 14 goals from 15 games.
A prolific scorer in both Middlesbrough’s youth and reserve teams, the Darlington-born forward was released by then Middlesbrough boss Gordon Strachan in 2010. Martin went on to carve out a successful career, mainly in Scandinavia, with stays in both Norway and Denmark. But it's Iceland where he has really flourished, representing four clubs in seven years.
It was during a spell with one of these teams, KR Reykjavík, where he had the opportunity to play in a 2014 Champions League qualifier against Celtic. Here Martin lined up against a certain Virgil van Djik.
Unsurprisingly he got little change from the man now widely regarded as the world’s best defender—a plucky first-minute effort was denied by both the post and the offside rule—but he made sure he grabbed the Dutchman’s shirt at the end of the tie as a rather nice keepsake.
It will be the slightly less cultured centre-halves in the blood and thunder National League North that Martin will now be hoping to outwit week-in-week-out.
This won’t be the first time he has played at this level, though. In late 2017 the striker joined York City on a similar short term contract before linking up with Norwegian outfit Lillestrom.
After four appearances and one goal, the move came to an abrupt end after it emerged Martin had played for Sunday league side Darlington Albion in a FA County Cup match. Minstermen gaffer Martin Gray was left seething and his York City deal was terminated.
Once his transfer to Darlo is rubber-stamped, Martin’s first task will be forcing his way into a Quakers side buoyed by taking twelve points from their last available fifteen, leaving them within touching distance of a top-seven spot and a shot at the playoffs.
Darlington’s attacking options took a hit in November when on-loan Middlesbrough youngster Tyrone O’Neill was recalled by manager Jonathan Woodgate after an injury crisis. The 20-year-old had proven to be a huge success at Blackwell Meadows, scoring seven times in all competitions. Quakers’ form then took a temporary nosedive with three league defeats on the bounce.
They have since rallied, adding Morpeth’s Sean Reid to their playing roster in the last fortnight. The 6’3” utility man has offered Quakers the physical presence in the final third that they had so clearly been lacking.
The capture of Martin may now allow Darlo manager Alun Armstrong to move Reid back to his more favoured midfield berth.
Certainly, Armstrong has plenty of options in attack, counting former Newcastle and Carlisle striker Adam Campbell and club all-time record goalscorer Stephen Thompson in his ranks. Jarret Rivers and Bermudian international Justin Donowa provide pace and guile on the flanks.
Armstrong, currently in his first season with Darlington, has been quick to dampen promotion talk; repeating the age-old mantra of taking it one game at a time.
This was expected to be a season of consolidation for Quakers, after the departure of former boss Tommy Wright in the summer, and Armstrong’s huge overhaul of the playing squad.
But just after the halfway mark of the season, Darlington are well-positioned for an assault on the playoffs and a possible return to the National League for the first time since 2012.