FC Halifax Town must brace themselves for a real Boxing Day battle in front of a sell-out crowd at Darlington on Monday (3.0).
That’s the message from boss Billy Heath as his Shaymen prepare for the first of two meetings in seven days against their Vanarama National League North play-off rivals.
Emotions are sure to be running high for the Quakers as they return to their home town after four years in exile at Bishop Auckland.
Darlington rugby club’s Blackwell Meadows ground has been redeveloped, with two new stands, to accommodate the football team and all 3,000 tickets for the festive clash are reported to have been sold.
Heath hopes his side will revel in the atmosphere but knows they must front up against a big, aggressive home line up.
He said: “We know Darlington will be a difficult place to go because they are opening a new ground.
“My players also know they will have to be strong physically.
“Darlington are a physical side. They are very good at set pieces and we have to be good in both boxes.”
With centre back Scott Garner starting a three match ban after his dismissal in the recent 2-0 FA Cup replay defeat by Eastleigh, Danny Hone could have a key role to play.
Hone was on the bench for last Saturday’s disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Talford United.
Darlington return to the Shay on New Year’s Day and Heath said the festive double header came at a crucial stage mid-way through the season.
“They are huge games. We need to start playing well again and get back into the play-off positions,” he said.
“We must get points from these games.”
Heath reported no new injuries from the Telford match and said that striker Richard Peniket would return to the match day squad after a break following a slight concussion.
Town and Darlington, who have both suffered financial meltdown in the past and are determined to fight their way back to the Football League, have been struggling for form recently.
Halifax have been side-tracked by the FA Cup and FA Trophy and last banked three points in a 2-0 home win over Kidderminster on November 12.
Darlington’s last league win came a week earlier. They lost 2-1 at Kidderminster last weekend but are still four positions higher than Halifax in the last of the play-off places.
Meanwhil, it will be Christmas in the workhouse for Town’s players with Heath saying there would be no let-up in the training schedule between Christmas and New Year.
He said also trusted his players not to over-indulge on Christmas Day.
“We have got a lot of young players but they understand that they have to be professional and do the right things. I have no worries on that front.”