York City sporting director Dave Penney has told the club’s players to ignore any off-field hostility as Martin Gray returns to former team Darlington on Saturday.

Gray guided ex-Football League outfit Darlington to three promotions during his five-year tenure, but this weekend’s hosts have introduced a sterile area around the visitors’ dugout to try and avoid any unsavoury scenes involving home supporters still unhappy following his decision to succeed Gary Mills at Bootham Crescent in October.

Two players – Adam Bartlett and David Ferguson – have also followed Gray from County Durham to North Yorkshire, but Penney insisted that the team must focus solely on securing a third consecutive victory following the festive double-header against North Ferriby.

He said: “Darlington are a big, strong side with history and pedigree and they’re looking to get back to where they came from. Martin started that journey with them and got them where they are now and what he did there with Sean (Gregan), Brian (Atkinson) and Harry (Dunn) was fantastic.

“He got three promotions and reached the play-offs twice in five years. With him then leaving the club, there are a lot of side issues around this game apart from the three points, but the game is the main thing.

“Tommy Wright (Gray’s successor) is one of my former players and he’s trying to stamp his own authority on the club, so we must make sure we are ready for the battle. But 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.”

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