THE winter break has proved beneficial for Newcastle Benfield. Before the weather intervened they were in free fall but bounced back on Saturday with an unexpected victory over Shildon.
A week earlier, the south west Durham side reached the last 16 of the FA Carlsberg Vase and were firm favourites at the Sam Smiths ground.
But Benfield upset the form book to raise hopes they can move clear of the relegation zone.
They could have scored three times in the opening 10 minutes but Shildon survived and the only goal came early in the second period when Sam Norris drove past Keith Finch from close-range.
Benfield are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination but are now fifth from the basement, six points clear of the drop zone.
South Shields, whose crucial battle at second-from-bottom Norton and Stockton Ancients was the only First Division game to be postponed, remain stranded with Billingham Town occupying the other relegation place.
They were again well beaten, this time by West Auckland Town, whose marksmen were Mattie Moffat (2), Elliott Gardner and Stuart Banks. Danny Brunskill, signed from Marske United, celebrated his debut scoring the Teessiders’ only goal.
West Auckland stay third top but it looks as if it will be a two-horse race for the championship between Darlington 1883 and Spennymoor Town.
The Quakers went nap at Marske United courtesy of Terry Galbraith (2), Steven Johnson (2) and David Dowson and enjoy a nine-point lead over Spennymoor who have five games in hand. Whitley Bay are fourth after their win at Ashington, who went in front courtesy of Glen Taylor before Chris Fawcett and Ash Davis replied.
Bedlington Terriers snatched a last-minute winner through Dylan Williamson at Team Northumbria, for whom Dan Riley (pen) and Jack Palmer cancelled out a two-goal deficit inflicted by Mark Doninger and Paul Brayson.
Consett were another side to lead by two goals thanks to a brace from Ryan King but Celtic Nation claimed a point with Stephen Archibald and Dean Douglas replying.
In Division Two, Alnwick Town celebrated moving off the bottom of the table where they have languished for most of the season.
And they did so in style by hammering Esh Winning with a five-goal romp, courtesy of David Thompson with a brace, Tony Brown, Gary Patterson and Ben Keenan. Darren Kokes was Esh’s only marksman.
Horden CW are now at the basement, trailing Alnwick by two points and with a significantly inferior goal difference. Their losing sequence continued at Brandon United, who started the day third from the basement. Peter Crawford raised the hopes of Horden but Brandon hit back to claim three crucial points with strikes from Lee Tinkler and Glen Hendrix (2).
Crook Town continue to set the pace at the top of the table but they could only share the points with fifth-placed Darlington RA at The Millfield ground.
Chris Wallace was an early second-half scorer for Crook before Martin Butterworth and Steve Allison fired RA in front. With 15 minutes remaining, Richard Hodgson levelled.
Second-top Ryhope CW’s game was postponed and Seaham Red Star closed in with victory at Tow Law Town, where Channon North and Kris Goss earned their side the points after Mattie Scott had opened for the Lawyers.
North Shields’ promotion hopes received a jolt at fourth-top Northallerton Town, who went nap through Adam Emson (2), James Bowman, Danny Shoulder (pen) and Steve Butterworth.
Robbie Nolan was the Robins’ sole marksman.
Spennymoor Town reached the last 16 of the FA Carlsberg Vase with a 3-1 win at home to Kent side Lordswood.
Gavin Cogden (2) and Mark Davison were the matchwinners with Mark Murison on target for the visitors.
Dunston UTS’ fourth-round tie at Tunbridge Wells was postponed for a third time and has been rescheduled for Saturday.