THREE points is the wafer-thin margin separating the top two in the NTSL with three matches left to play.
Both have home advantage today, leaders Swalwell taking on lowly Chopwell, and Sacriston entertaining an Ashington team who look doomed to relegation barring a late miracle.
Michael Armstrong replaces Richard Shotton in the Swalwell side against unchanged opponents who could still finish in the bottom two. But it would take an unusual combination of results for this to happen as Ashington, the only team below Chopwell who could realistically catch them, have to play the top three sides in their final matches.
Melvyn Betts returns from suspension to lead Sacriston as they go for glory. The club are in uncharted territory having never won the premier title since the merged league was formed, and they should have too much power for opponents who have won just once in their last 15 matches, a run that has virtually sealed their demotion fate.
Sacriston are not at full strength as Ben Hall has work commitments, Jack Hardy has been drafted in to replace him, while Andrew Dixon makes way for the talismanic Betts.
The Colliers have to reckon without all-rounder Scott Thornton, but at least leading run scorer Jack Jessop returns to bolster the batting line-up.
Shotley Bridge are not yet out of the title equation, but with 24 points to claw back on the leaders their chances would appear to be on the slim side of thin despite a fairly comfortable run-in on paper. Their hardest game is likely to be today when they entertain Annfield Plain. Bridge are unchanged, while Plain bring in Dave Newstead and Adam Phillips for the unavailable Dan Keegan and Andrew Donnelly.
Newcastle City’s relegation is likely to be mathematically confirmed today unless they can pull off only their second victory when they go to Lanchester. They travel without Bob and Sachin Brar, their replacements not yet named, while Lanchester include Kieron Taylor in place of Haydn Petch.
Elsewhere, the newly-married Richard Darling returns to the Tynedale team in place of Jamie Crichton for their game at Percy Main, and Burnopfield are missing Gary Innes for the trip to Longhirst Hall where they take on Morpeth.
After last week’s torrential downpours spoilt the potential Northumberland League title decider between Bedlington and Blue Flames, the pair head into their final three matches with just a single point separating them.
The Terriers play bottom club Bomarsund today, and then follow with matches against Clara Vale and Corbridge – on paper all eminently winnable. Flames start with a real test at Berwick this afternoon, with Blagdon Park and Warkworth to come - all three opponents currently in the top half of the table.
Bedlington have Paul Straker back at the helm after his holidays, and with Nicky Douglas returning, and Nicky Carr recovered from his hamstring injury, they should have too much fire power for Bomarsund although Bomar are at full strength with Chris Mollen and Callum Irwin set to play.
A few weeks ago Berwick were in with a shout themselves, but two successive defeats scuppered their chances and all that is left to them is the chance to dampen the Flames ambitions today. The border boys show just the one change with John Simmons at the ODI and Glen Bird drafted in to try and put their opponents to flight.
Mid-table Bates Cottages can put the Vale down if they defeat Clara today, but the Cottagers are missing three key men in the shape of Ross Sample, Michael Fenwick and Ross Symington. Matthew Walton is back from holiday to claim one of the vacated places.
Fourteen year-old Ali Batey has had three attempts at making his first team debut for Alnmouth, but the weather has intervened. It should be fourth time lucky in the home meeting with Corbridge.
In other games, Tillside face a Stocksfield team that includes Gareth Wade, Duncan Ayre and Emerson Brown, while Nigel Clough is back for Blagdon Park for the trip to Warkworth.