THE outcome of today’s top-of-the-table clash between Spennymoor Town and Whitley Bay could have a big bearing on who will be crowned champions.
Moors moved into pole position for the first time in mid week but they defend a slender one-point lead over Consett with Whitley Bay fourth, eight points off the top.
“We’ve steadily moved up the table in recent weeks but this is now a must-win game. We’ve played one game less than Spennymoor and have a better goals difference so if we win, we’ll definitely be in with a shout,” said Bay manager Ian Chandler.
Consett visit West Allotment Celtic who, until recently, were on the fringe of the championship race. They fell behind but will feel they can give Consett a good game after producing a five-goals blitz in their midweek fixture. Newcastle Benfield are also in a strong challenging position and appear to have the easiest game of the top four sides when they go to Billingham Synthonia.
Coach Paddy Atkinson is hoping to help Benfield to the top but he could move on during the summer.
He explained: “I stood down as manager when my daughter was born five months ago. Tom Wade has done a fantastic job and I’ve been very happy to work with him but if a club higher in the pyramid offered me a job, then I would certainly look at it.”
Alu Bangura and Stephen Buzzeo are both absent today but Lewis Tait and Mark Atkinson are expected to return.
Two sides aiming to finish in the top six meet on Wearside. Sunderland Nissan have Anthony Chapman suspended, while Shildon delay announcing their squad. Seaham Red Star were relegated during the week leaving four sides to battle against joining them in the Second Division.
West Auckland are in grave danger and will need a good result against Billingham Town, whose goals difference almost certainly secures their top-flight status.
The result of the game between Northallerton Town and Bishop Auckland will be crucial to the fate of both clubs. Bishops are just outside the drop zone, five points ahead of Northallerton and if they win they’ll definitely be safe.
South Shields are also involved in the bottom-of-the-table dogfight and victory at Bedlington Terriers could be sufficient to ensure a second season in the top division.
An attractive game is in prospect at Woodhorn Lane between local rivals Ashington and Morpeth Town. The Colliers are now free from the threat of relegation and their only absentee is the injured David Rayner.
Ryton manager Barry Fleming is delighted with his side’s form during an initial season in the First Division and with Craig Marron, Liam McBryde and Ryan Bell back, has a near full-strength squad for the visit of Chester-le-Street.
Horden CW will join Norton and Stockton Ancients and Esh Winning in Division One if they claim one point from their last two games.
Today, they go to Crook Town and manager Simon Corbett is looking to win the last two matches and pip Norton for the championship.
“In a worst-case scenario, if we lose the last two games and Sunderland RCA win theirs, then it’s likely they will go up so it’s still all to play for but hopefully we’ll get a point today,” said Corbett who has goalkeeper James Winter returning.
At the other end of the table Washington secured their status with last week’s victory and there was further good news this week with the decision of their Albany Park landlords to rebuild the changing rooms destroyed by arsonists a few months ago.
Caretaker manager Andy Lumsden will stand down after today’s game and be replaced by former player David Lee.
“We’ve had a torrid 15 months one way and another, but hopefully it’s now onwards and upwards. We have informed the league that we wish to rescind our resignation and hopefully things can only get better,” said secretary Barry Spendley.