NEWCASTLE Benfield manager Paul Baker is not getting carried away with his team’s recent performances, but he is no doubt hoping history repeats itself.
Last season, Benfield came from nowhere to clinch the championship on the last day of the season and, following an unbeaten sequence stretching to 11 games, the leading pack must be looking over their shoulders.
Baker, speaking ahead of today’s trip to Bedlington Terriers.said: “We have won nine and drawn two of our last 11 fixtures to move into fourth place, but we are still 12 points adrift of leaders Spennymoor Town, having played the same number of games.
“Dunston UTS and Whitley Bay are also ahead of us, so it is going to be a tall order if we are to retain the title – but the top teams have to play one another so anything could happen.”
Benfield, in fact, played at Bedlington in midweek when they defeated Morpeth Town by five goals, but Baker knows it will be a lot more difficult today.
Dean Nicholson is suspended and it may be too early for Carl Patterson to resume, although he is well on the way to making his comeback.
Bedlington Terriers’ target is to finish in the top six and joint manager Tony Lowery reports that Steve Shaw misses out – but hopefully Tony Shandran will be declared fit.
Spennymoor Town have seen their lead trimmed to just six points after claiming only one point from the last two games.
Even so, they start favourites at home to relegation-threatened Esh Winning, whose boss Geoff Young concedes it is a difficult game.
He said: “They will be desperate to return to winning form, and all I can ask is for the lads to put up a decent performance. Who knows we may take something from the match.” Young is likely to name former Leeds United, Hartlepool and York City defender as a replacement for the suspended Stephen Banks.
Dunston UTS are second, six points behind Spennymoor Town who have four games in hand – and manager Billy Irwin reckons it will be a good achievement if they can finish in the top three.
He cannot call upon Michael Robson at Tow Law Town and Mark O’Bern will need to undergo a late check on his fitness.
Ryton this week withdrew their resignation and will aim to move further away from the relegation zone when they take on West Allotment Celtic.
Manager Barry Fleming includes Craig Marron, Gareth Powell, Andy Barclay and Richie Logan while his opposite number Paul Bennett is pleased to have centre-backs Chris Jewells and Craig Scott fit. Ashington entertain Durham Challenge Cup finalists Billingham Synthonia and manager Gary Middleton awaits news on the availability of Gareth Bainbridge and Joe Race. Synners have no injury concerns and, although they aim to finish as high as possible, they are now focused on defeating Ryton in the Good Friday final at Eppleton CW.
Eight players have left Horden CW since the club announced they would be unable to continue paying, but manager Brian Honour is determined to keep his village club in the top flight.
He said: “Everybody is working and playing for nothing and there is a great atmosphere and attitude. We all want to achieve the same goal.”
Honour has Anthony Dobell, Liam Beeston and Alan Hopper back for the testing challenge against West Auckland Town,, who are three points and one place above Horden in the relegation zone.
Chester-le-Street eased their drop fears with a rare win last weekend but are still in the bottom six for the visit of Whitley Bay, who are fighting for honours on three fronts.
The Cestrians are another club to have cut their playing budget and Josh Carmichael is the latest player to exit Chester Moor Park.
How much different it is at Hillheads, where Whitey Bay had a crowd of nearly 800 to watch them defeat Newcastle United Reserves in the semi-final of the Northumberland FA Senior Cup earlier in the week.
Manager Ian Chandler said: “We are also in the semi-finals of the FA Carlsberg Vase, but tomorrow we need to concentrate on claiming all three points to keep alive our chances of winning the championship.”