LEE CLARK believes Chris Atkinson’s six-month loan to Darlington will drive forward his bid for a regular berth in Town’s midfield.

The 19-year-old has made three first-team appearances for Town and featured in four of their senior pre-season friendlies.

Now he’s focused on making his mark in the Blue Square Premier after following Jimmy Spencer out on loan.

“It is essential that some of the young professionals within the squad spend time out on loan and experience competitive first team football,” said manager Clark of a player contracted until 2013.

“I’ve explained how highly I rate Chris Atkinson many times during the course of last season and feel that now is the right time to allow him some time out on loan.

“We will keep tabs on Chris’s progression throughout his six months at Darlington and compile a dossier.

“When he returns in January we will have a good idea of where he is and what his next step should be.

“Chris has a lot of very good attributes. He has a very high work rate and has the ability to be a box to box player.

“His distribution of the ball is excellent and the composure he shows when on the ball will, I believe, make him a very good central midfielder.”

Darlington manager Mark Cooper, a former Town loan player, has named Atkinson in his squad for tonight’s friendly at Sheffield FC.

“Chris is very highly rated by Lee Clark and he wants him to get first-team experience at a decent level,” he said.

“There are only a few Conference clubs he would have let him join, so we’re pleased to make the signing.

“He’s a quality midfielder who is tall, athletic, very mobile, loves to make a tackle and can nick a goal.”

Atkinson is a fifth close-season arrival at Darlington, who start their league campaign at home to Braintree on Saturday, August 13.

Their first away game is the following Tuesday at Fleetwood, where Atkinson appeared for Town in Friday’s friendly.