WHITLEY Bay's aspirations of overtaking Spennymoor Town in the race for the championship receded when they were held to a draw in midweek, and nothing short of victory at Bedlington Terriers today will keep their slim hopes alive.
The Seahorses, who are through to the finals of the FA Carlsberg Vase and Northumberland FA Senior Cup as well as the semi-finals of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup, face a hectic end to the season – but manger Ian Chandler insists they will fight tooth and nail in every game.
His opposite number at Bedlington Terriers Tony Lowery is looking for a much-improved performance following last week’s heavy defeat.
He said: "It was a big disappointment and we were nowhere near good enough.
"Whitley Bay are a very good team and we will have to be at our best if we are to claim the points and hopefully end in the top six". Michael Hedley and John Hall both return for the Terriers.
Dunston UTS, the only club to have applied for promotion to the UniBond League, have a lot to do if they are to end in the top two and qualify.
Although they are equal on points with Whitley Bay, they have played five games more than the Seahorses and need to return home from Penrith with all three points.
Newcastle Benfield are now mathematically out of contention for the title, but are fourth before the visit of relegation-threatened Esh Winning. Following the midweek draw, Benfield manager Paul Baker delayed announcing his squad. At the other end of the table, seven clubs are fighting to avoid relegation.
Until Monday, Morpeth Town were odds-on favourites, but two wins in three days have given John King side a glimmer of hope.
He said: "It has been a real challenge throughout the season.
"We are the most northerly team and it is difficult to attract players, but we are still in with a shout of staying up and our game at third bottom Ryton is a real six-pointer." King cannot call upon Michael Pitt, Andy Middleton or Steve Warwick.
Lee Ludlow and Derrick Attwell both come into contention, while Ryton boss Barry Fleming welcomes the inclusion of Dale Burrell – but Craig Marron and Gary Bailes are sidelined.
Chester-le-Street are just outside the drop zone, just a point ahead of Ryton for their tough assignment at fifth-placed Shildon.
Horden CW are also in trouble but manager Brian Honour, the former Hartlepool player, has declared his intention of staying on regardless of which division the Colliers play in next season.
He said: "On Monday, the average age of the team was just 17, but I am immensely impressed by the desire, effort and heart which the kids have shown in the last few months .
"There is no way I will leave them, providing of course the club want me to stay on."
Horden visit West Allotment Celtic whose manager Paul Bennet misses Jamie McLen and Colin McKenzie, who both broke an ankle in the midweek game.
Billingham Town are another side fighting a rearguard action and it will be a major surprise if they halt Spennymoor Town's challenge for the title.
Esh Winning go to Newcastle Benfield only four points above the top zone but West Auckland Town, who at Christmas propped up the table, have improved so dramatically victory at South Shields has just about secured their top-flight status.
Sunderland RCA have a one- point lead at the top of Division Two and are at home to Northallerton Town. Manager Neil Hixon names Steve Jones and Mark McLeod, who is home from university.
Stokesley have a game in hand on their three rivals and welcome Washington, who slipped into the bottom three during the week.
Jarrow Roofing are in third but could find it difficult at home to Whitehaven who have twice held leaders Sunderland RCA to a draw.
Roofing are pleased to have Chris Hepple back from suspension, while Marske United, the only other side in with a chance of moving up, face Seaham Red Star, whose chances are boosted by Michael Patterson’s inclusion.