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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 15:03 GMT
Northern lights
By Pete Oliver

Darlington v Hartlepool

Manchester, Mersey or Milan it is not, but the north-east derby between Darlington and Hartlepool is still a fiercely contested local spat.

More often than not local pride has tended to be the biggest prize at stake as the two clubs have slugged it out in the bottom division.

But in recent years things have changed, with Pools perennial promotion challengers and for the past couple of seasons lording it over their neighbours in League One.

Relegation last summer rekindled the fixture but no longer are the two clubs quite such poor relations to Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle just up the road.

Major investment from their Norwegian owners has transformed Hartlepool's image, while Darlington have left Feethams behind to play in a 25,000 all-seater stadium.

And more importantly, both clubs are producing the goods on the field, which makes Sunday's clash the biggest since the pair met in the 2000 play-off semi-finals.

League Two leaders Hartlepool will tighten their grip on the title race if they can extend their unbeaten run to a new club record of 22 games in front of a sell-out travelling attendance of 3,750.

Darlington, meanwhile, will boost their own play-off hopes if they can extend their own undefeated run to 14 matches.

No wonder, therefore, that Andy Toman, who played over 100 games for both clubs, describes it as a "massive game."

I still go out in Darlington and Hartlepool and there are fans in both towns who either love me or hate me

Andy Toman

"I've played in a few of these derbies and I know what it's like. The rivalry is always there and this one, with how they are both going, is massive," he told BBC Sport.

Toman enjoyed the best goal-scoring form of his career with Pools, linking with Paul Baker from an attacking midfield position to score a season's best 17 in the 1987/88 campaign.

However, it was at Darlington where he won silverware after crossing the great divide in 1989 to help Brian Little's side win back-to-back titles in the Conference and old Fourth Division.

"I had good times at both clubs," Toman said. "I had my ups and downs at both but whenever I go there I can hold my head up. It was an honour to play for both of them."

Serving the two teams, which are 25 miles apart, was not enough to gain universal approval though.

"I still go out in Darlington and Hartlepool and there are fans in both towns who either love me or hate me," added Toman.

"To some I'm Hartlepool scum or it's 'there's Andy Toman, who helped bring us back into the Football League'.

"Hartlepool fans hate Darlington and the other way round. The fans are passionate and they won't accept second best."

Toman, football academy manager at Middlesbrough College and manager of Northern League side Guisborough Town, is still based in the north-east and well qualified to pass comment on the current line-ups of his former clubs.

The 45-year-old has been impressed with Danny Wilson's work at Hartlepool and expects it to bear fruit come the end of the season.

"When Danny Wilson got the job I said he would do a great job," said Toman, who will be in the crowd at Sunday's game.

"I played (and scored) against him for Hartlepool against Luton in an FA Cup game and with him in a testimonial.

"I heard him talking in the dressing-room and out on the pitch and he was quality.

I hope Hartlepool go up as champions and maybe Darlington can go up through the back door

Andy Toman

"At the start of the season Hartlepool stuttered but I said 'give him a chance' and it's come to fruition.

"They have sailed up there and they have done it by playing good football as well, which takes time. It takes time to get your own coaching styles in and to get them playing as you want.

"I can't see any reason why they shouldn't go up and I hope they go up as champions."

Toman's allegiances are still split, however, and as well as hoping for a diplomatic draw this weekend is also backing the Quakers to make a late promotion push of their own.

"In Dave Penney they've got a good manager as well," he added.

"Everyone thought he was the Messiah when they won their first six games, but you can get that when a new manager comes in.

"I have spoken to Dave and he was not blinded by winning games. They weren't playing that well and then they started losing games for the same reason - they weren't playing well.

"But he has good ideas and what he has done now is instilled it in the players that they do it his way or they're not there.

"He has got them back playing and getting results and the big plus for him has been getting David Wheater on loan from Middlesbrough.

"He has other irons in the fire and hopefully they can keep climbing, get into the play-offs and go up through the back door."



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