DUNNINGTON-BASED defender Andrew Milne is hoping to help League Two basement boys Darlington halt their slide towards the Blue Square Premier.

The Quakers currently lie 14 points from safety after winning just two of their first 21 fixtures in 2009/10.

But Milne, who wants to return to the Northern Echo Arena on loan from Leeds United, believes former Republic of Ireland boss Steve Staunton, placed in charge three months ago, can still mastermind a successful battle against relegation.

The former Fulford School pupil was named man of the match on his Football League debut during Darlington’s 1-0 defeat at Bradford City last month but returned to Elland Road, where he is out of contract in the summer, after suffering a recurrence of an ankle injury in his next match against Torquay.

About his ambitions for 2010, Milne said: “I’m out of contract at the end of the season so I want to get some more experience and then see what happens with Leeds. If Leeds allow me to go out again and Darlington still want me, I would have no hesitation in going back there on loan to get more experience.

“They got off to a bad start but it’s a challenge to get out of trouble and, if the players can pull it off, they will go down as Darlington heroes. The team spirit and work ethic are very good, as is the management team of Steve Staunton and Kevin Richardson.

“It’s a hard task but they still have a good chance of staying up and I’m sure they will be looking to bring more players in this month as well.”

Milne, 19, has not featured in a competitive match for League One title hopefuls Leeds yet despite scoring a goal against his home-town club at Bootham Crescent in July’s pre-season friendly.

And the former Scotland under-18 international admitted he enjoyed the step up from reserve to senior football, adding: “I only ended up playing one-and-a-half games for Darlington but I really enjoyed League football. It was good to get the experience of playing 3pm football on a Saturday and in front of a good crowd when results really matter.

“It’s also much quicker than reserve football. Playing against a local side like Bradford with their level of support made it even better although I did get a bit of abuse for being from Leeds.

“We lost 1-0 but it was a pretty good game and we probably deserved a draw out of it. I’m normally a centre-back, but I played at right-back and enjoyed that as well.

“I was up against Simon Whaley, who was on loan from Norwich and also played for Preston against Leeds in the Championship play-offs three years ago. It was a decent test to come up against somebody with his experience and I was pleased to get the man-of-the-match award. It was nice to pose for pictures and sign autographs afterwards with my bottle of champagne.”

Milne’s next match ended in agony, however, when he was stretchered off with ankle ligament damage after 42 minutes at Plainmoor.

“I was gutted because before I went to Darlington, I was in a rush to get my ankle right before another loan window closed,” he admitted. “I had missed two weeks where I could have been out on loan playing so I was buzzing after doing well against Bradford but, as soon as I went down at Torquay, I knew I would be out for a while.

“It’s not as bad as I first feared though. I just need to do three or four weeks of running now to build it back up.”

Other advances were made for Milne from other Football League outfits but he opted to join Darlington despite their lowly status, admitting that the chance to work with former Leeds coach Staunton was a key factor.

He said: “Steve Staunton is a great manager – an international manager – and there can’t be many better than him for me to learn from. He was a centre back and a full-back himself and one of the best around for Liverpool and Ireland.

“I get on well with him from my time at Leeds and, as soon as he called, I could not turn down the chance to play for him. He’s very professional and knows the game inside out.”