FOR the first time since its inception in 1974, six STL Northern League sides will today compete in the fourth round of the FA Carlsberg Vase.
There is no all-Northern League tie which raises the hope of two sides competing in the final at Wembley in May.
“I dream of an all-Northern League final,” said chairman Mike Amos, who will be in Bristol for Spennymoor Town’s tie with Cadbury Heath. “This is the first time in 37 years that so many teams have reached this stage which is a great achievement.”
It will be no easy task for Spennymoor. Cadbury Heath have won nine and drawn two of their last 11 games, but assistant manager Perry Briggs watched them in action last weekend and believes Moors have enough to reach the next round.
He said: “We are unbeaten away from home and don’t have any selection concerns. Lewis Dodds and Chris Mason have both had niggling injuries, but should be okay.”
Holders Whitley Bay also face a long journey, to Herne Bay in Kent. Manager Ian Chandler, who scored in the Seahorses’ Vase final win at Villa Park in 2002, is delighted to have Terry Burke back in goal.
“Terry will add experience to the back four and my only injury doubt is Paul Robinson,” said Chandler, who steered the Bay to Vase victories in the last two seasons.
Four of the six clubs are on their travels. Ashington play Long Buckby (Northants) but despite conceding home advantage, manager Gary Middleton is ‘very confident’.
He said: “We are in great form and if we perform as we have done recently, I’m sure we can get the right result. I’ve no new injury worries although Paul Dunn and James Harmison are not yet ready to make their comebacks.”
Dunston UTS are at Runcorn Town and boss Billy Irwin, who watched today’s opponents in the last round, believes the Tynesiders can go through to the last 16.
“I’ve got 18 fully fit players raring to go and if we play to our potential we’ll be okay,” claimed Irwin.
Norton and Stockton Ancients, who reached last season’s quarter-finals, have home advantage over Kings Lynn Town. With Dale Mulligan back in training, manager Conrad Hillerby expects to name his strongest line-up.
Billingham Synthonia host Tadcaster Albion and manager Michael Watson’s only absentee is Andy Foster. A boost is the inclusion of Tommy Marron.
With their nearest challengers on Vase duty, Consett have the opportunity to stretch their lead at the top of the table to eight points when they visit Jarrow Roofing.
Manager Kenny Lindoe has obtained international clearance for Stephen Aiston, who has been playing in America.
Shildon will go second if they beat Sunderland RCA, who this week transferred David Duke and Michael Coghlan to Jarrow Roofing and signed Paul Taylor from Easington Colliery.
Newcastle Benfield will need to bounce back at Esh Winning following a damaging mid-week defeat, if they are to keep the pressure on the leading trio, while Bedlington Terriers aim to go fifth by beating Stokesley.
“We are in good nick having taken seven points from the last nine,” observed Terriers assistant manager Paddy Atkinson. “We’ve got some difficult games coming up however, so cannot afford to slip up today against bottom-three opponents.”
West Allotment Celtic boss Tom Wade will name newcomers Paul Gordon and Paul Jackson from Jarrow Roofing and Michael Strachan (Walker Central) against Billingham Town, while Ryton boss Peter Craggs has Barry Lattimer and Craig Jelley available at Penrith.
North Shields are hoping it will not be unlucky 13 when they go to Darlington RA in the Second Division. Nine wins and three draws have propelled the Robins into third position. Joe Elliott, Chris Laws and Ross Atkinson come into manager Anthony Woodhouse’s plans.
Team Northumbria are up to fourth – their highest rating so far – and against fifth-placed Whickham at The Glebe miss Dean Critchlow, who was injured in a car accident.
Whickham manager Terry Ritson reports that Paul Cavaghan has completed a ban but Andrew Snaith is rated very doubtful.