NORTON and Stockton Ancients’ relegation from the Ebac Northern League First Division was confirmed on Saturday – and several sides are battling to avoid joining them in Division Two.
Among them are South Shields, now odds-on favourites for the drop after their five-match winning sequence was abruptly ended by Whitley Bay.
The Mariners faced an uphill struggle once they conceded goals to the impressive Lewis Burns and Paul Chow in the opening 10 minutes.
Although they tightened up at the back, the Shieldsmen never threatened and it was all over when Chris Fawcett struck a third goal just before the end.
Jon King’s side need to win their last three games to have any chance of surviving while Newcastle Benfield are also looking into the abyss after they went down by a three-goal margin at Bishop Auckland.
Jamie Harwood, Andy Johnson and Ryan Cummings were the marksmen and the result leaves Benfield in the third relegation position, one point behind Billingham Town with a game in hand.
Sunderland RCA are also looking anxiously over their shoulder as their losing sequence continued against Dunston UTS, for whom Danny Craggs scored the only goal with barely a minute gone.
The turning point came on 35 minutes when RCA’s Scott Richards was sent off.
The Wearsiders are fifth from the basement, just a point ahead of Benfield.
Marske United are also deep in trouble despite claiming a critical point in the relegation dogfight with Penrith, who are now close to safety.
Twice ahead courtesy of Kevin Connelly and Scott Allison, Penrith were pegged back by David Onions and Leon Carling, who struck a dramatic 93rd-minute equaliser.
Norton and Stockton Ancients were consigned to Division Two when they were held to a draw by neighbours Billingham Town following an amazing game.
Norton’s hopes surged when they romped into a three-goal lead through Dale Mulligan (2) and Jack Proctor and they were ahead for almost 50 minutes.
Billingham, who are just outside the drop zone, launched a match-saving rally scoring three times in nine minutes thanks to Nick Martin and Christian Selby (2).
In Division Two, it looks as if either Jarrow Roofing or Morpeth Town will clinch the last promotion place.
There was a double boost for the Northumbrians when they edged Tow Law Town with an only goal by Michael Chilton.
They stay fifth, now only two points behind Jarrow with the sides having played the same number of games.
Roofing succumbed to Northallerton Town, who went in front with an Ian Smurthwaite penalty awarded after he had been brought down by goalkeeper Ryan Graham.
When Graham committed another infringement, this time outside the box, he was sent off in the 37th minute and three minutes from time Adam Emson struck a second, decisive goal. Crook Town and Ryhope CW are battling it out for the championship. Crook hit Washington with a seven-goal blitz from Warren Byrne (3), Robbie Bird (2), David Paul and Mark Paterson (og). The Newtowners’ only reply was credited to Dean Walker.
Ryhope are five points behind Crook with two games in hand and a better goals difference.
The Wearsiders romped home at relegation-threatened Esh Winning with strikes by John Butler (3), Martin Metcalfe and Chris Winn.
At the bottom, Horden CW need to win their last two games to have any chance of surviving. Despite scoring after just two minutes through Andy Lonsdale and holding the lead for 70 minutes, they went down to Chester-le-Street as John Pyle (og) and Tom Alderson netted.
Alnwick Town also require six points from their final two matches and they too would have to rely on Esh Winning conceding points.
Alnwick’s hopes suffered a blow when Whitehaven emerged winners thanks to Craig Robson (2), Mattie Tymon and Stuart Shaw.