THE outcome of this afternoon’s match-of-the-day between Spennymoor Town and Sunderland RCA will define the championship chances of both teams.
Two defeats in their last three outings have seen Spennymoor lose ground. In contrast, RCA are in exhilarating form which was proved on Tuesday night when they outplayed sixth-top Ashington and they now lead their rivals, who have three games in hand, by nine points.
Neil Hixon said: “It’s the best 90 minutes we have played this season. Once we got our noses in front I thought we were fantastic and the first half was the best I’ve seen any of my teams play in 11 years of management.”
Although the Wearsiders go to the Brewery Field full of confidence, Hixon knows it will be an extremely difficult game for both teams.
“They’ve taken just three points from the last nine and will be desperate to bounce back,” added Hixon. “If they win, they’ll be only six points behind us but if we come out on top, our lead will stretch to 12 points.”
This week, RCA re-signed Harrison Davies from Consett and Hixon expects to complete the transfer of Dale Jardine before today’s deadline.
With the only other two championship contestants West Auckland Town and Dunston UTS on FA Carlsberg Vase duty, much attention will be focused at the bottom of the table as several sides battle against the drop.
Stokesley SC are already relegated and Tow Law Town have a lot to do if they are to preserve top-flight status. The Lawyers are 12 points from safety ahead of the visit from Bedlington Terriers and manager Ian Davison admitted it’s not looking very good.
Davison and Michael Robson are both suspended and so too is Bedlington’s Stuart Elliott.
Jarrow Roofing are third from the basement and have only three fixtures to fulfil, starting at home to Shildon who all but mathematically ended their relegation fears with a midweek victory.
Penrith are equal on points with Jarrow but enjoy a significantly better goal difference which could yet prove pivotal. The Cumbrians visit Billingham Town who are just one place and three points better off.
The Teessiders’ manager Carl Jarrett reckons a win today will make them safe and he’s confident after seeing his side claim 13 points from the last 18.
In Division Two, Team Northumbria’s lead looked impregnable only a few weeks ago, but they are now just three points in front of Hebburn Town who have a game in hand.
Team could again find the going difficult at home to fourth-top Darlington RA but a boost for manager Paul Johnson is the return of several players who missed the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup victory over Billingham Synthonia on Monday night. Leading scorer Peter Watling, Graeme Cairns, Dean Critchlow and Andy Jennison all resume and there is a chance that Mark Fenwick will have recovered from the injury which has seen him sidelined for several weeks.
Hebburn Town are flying high and at Northallerton Town manager Paul Bennett is likely to hand a debut to Gareth McAlindon, signed from North Shields. Captain Chris Jewels though is banned.
Third-placed Morpeth Town, who finished rock bottom last season, could end top which would be a remarkable achievement. To have any chance, however, they need to defeat Whickham who have Scott Robson struggling with an injury.
Birtley Town are fifth but manager Scott Oliver admits it will take a big slip-up by one of the three leading sides for them to have any chance of going up.
Before the visit to Esh Winning he said: “We’ve only lost one of our last 16 games but even so, are seven points behind the third-placed side with just five games to play so it’s a tall order.”
Oliver, meanwhile, has signed his brother Keith who played more than 50 games for Hartlepool. He is named today but Michael Hepplewhite has returned to Dunston UTS following the expiry of his month’s loan.