THE race for the First Division championship is virtually a straight fight between Darlington 1883 and Spennymoor Town, but several sides are competing for the three promotion places in Division Two.
North Shields is one of them and after losing just once in their last 17 league and cup games, find themselves sixth with a real chance of making it into the top flight.
Manager Graham Fenton was happy with his team’s response following the disappointment of losing to Northallerton Town. He said: “The lads bounced back and we are in a good position going into this afternoon’s difficult game at Darlington RA, who are a point and a place above us.”
Following the Northallerton defeat, the Robins have won three games on the bounce and they will aim for a hat-trick of victories over RA, who they have beaten twice this season, racking up seven goals. Rob Nolan will be looking to maintain his scoring form. Since signing from Washington, with whom he scored three times, Nolan has notched 22 goals and is the Robins’ leading scorer.
He is named in a strong side which could include captain Dan Patterson and goalkeeper Michael Robinson, who were missing last weekend.
Crook Town lead the field and until a couple of weeks ago would have been odds-on favourites to defeat Horden CW but, since the appointment of the former Sunderland player John Cornforth as coach, the Colliers’ form has dramatically improved.
At one stage they looked doomed to be relegated but are now only a point behind Esh Winning, who are immediately outside the drop zone. Player manager Darren Atkinson misses out at the Millfield ground. Ryhope CW are second, going into their game at Thornaby, where Craig Marron and John Butler return. Michael Charlton, Martin Metcalfe and Greg Swansbury, though, are all considered doubtful.
Jarrow Roofing have surged into third place on the back of some excellent performances in recent weeks. Manager Richie McLoughlin cannot call upon Anth Myers or Danny Carson at Whitehaven.
Tow Law Town are another side on the up, although they probably have too much to do to regain top-flight status at the first attempt.
“We’ve brought in a few new players and others have come back from injury. Our form lately has been very good and we’ve started to put together a bit of consistency,” observed manager Gary Anderson who welcomes the return of Shaun Ryder at Ryton and Crawcrook Albion. In Division One, Newcastle Benfield are on ‘a bit of a high’ according to recently-appointed manager Steve Bowey, who insists that every game is massive, starting at Newton Aycliffe.
“We’ve won two and drawn one since Gareth McAlindon and I came in but there’s a long way to go if we are to avoid being really sucked into a relegation dogfight,” said Bowey.
Kevin Leighton and Gareth Williams come into Bowey’s plans but Paul Talbot is working and David Southern remains on the injured list.
Dunston UTS are playing for a top-eight finish and success in the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup.
“It was disappointing going out of the FA Carlsberg Vase and we didn’t play very well last Saturday but bounced back to form with a good result at West Auckland Town earlier in the week,” observed secretary Bill Montague. UTS visit Sunderland RCA and manager Billy Irwin should have Stephen Goddard, Dan Smith, Liam Connell and captain Ben Cattanach in his squad.
Ashington are without the injured Josh Gray and will need to give striker Phill Bell a fitness test before boss Gary Middleton can name his line-up at Team Northumbria, who have slipped into the bottom six.
South Shields, with two wins in their last three games, will attempt to move out of the bottom three when they take on Hebburn Town.
Recently, Mariners’ boss Jon King has signed Denver Morris, Andrew Thompson, Jordan Fraser, Colin White and Kenny Ball. “They’ve made a difference and there’s a strong mentality in the squad. We still have a lot to do but I’m confident we can escape the drop,” enthused King.