Clarke’s only goal eases fears of the drop

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SUNDERLAND RCA are not out of the woods but they eased their position near the bottom of the EBAC Northern League First Division with a significant result against rival strugglers Billingham Town at Meadow Park on Saturday.

A scrappy first half saw Danny Brunskill’s effort deflected by RCA goalkeeper Jonathan Ball and at the other end Jamie Clarke headed over.

RCA gradually gained the ascendancy but it took an outstanding save by Ball from a Glen Butterworth free kick to keep the scores level.

The only goal came on 71 minutes as Brian Close crossed and Clarke fired past Danny Molyneux.

Stephen Flockett was close to an equaliser and so too was Butterworth who near the end, fired a long-range effort which just cleared the crossbar.

Neil Hixon’s men are now eighth from bottom, seven points ahead of Penrith who occupy the last relegation place.

RCA are away tonight to Team Northumbria, who are three points and three places ahead of the Wearsiders.

Norton and Stockton Ancients look doomed following defeat by Dunston UTS, whose marksmen were Stephen Goddard and Daniel Craig. Stephen Oakley raised the hopes of Norton but another defeat leaves them effectively 18 points from safety with 12 games to play.

South Shields remain second bottom but three wins on the bounce has given them a chance of engineering a great escape.

Until recently, they also looked destined for the drop but the Mariners are now only nine points adrift of Newton Aycliffe, who are fourth from bottom. Adam Burnicle and Andrew Thompson struck at Bedlington Terriers for whom Phil Bannister replied but the Mariners held on for another crucial victory.

Shields can move to within five points of Newton Aycliffe if they beat Ancients tonight.

Penrith are third bottom but have several games in hand on the sides around them. The Cumbrians produced a battling performance at Billingham Synthonia before going down to an only goal scored by Danny Newby.

Newton Aycliffe are immediately outside the relegation zone following a 4-2 defeat at West Auckland Town for whom Mattie Moffat rifled a hat-trick with John Campbell his side’s other marksman. Danny Earl bagged a brace for Aycliffe.

Newcastle Benfield are another side fighting to avoid going down and defeat at Celtic Nation leaves them in a perilous position. Stephen Archibald struck twice for the Cumbrians before Tommy English reduced the deficite.

Marske United are also anxiously looking over their shoulders and they failed to improve their position, losing to Hebburn Town whose scorers were Dean Nicholson (2), Stuart Nicholson and Chris Jewels. Chris McGill and Jordan Hugill netted for the Seasiders.

Eight teams are fighting against the drop but only two are challenging for the championship with Darlington 1883 now favourites to end in pole position.

They coasted past fourth-top Whitley Bay before a crowd of 1,146 at Hillheads where Stephen Thompson converted two penalties and Joe Tait also found the net.

The destination of the title is now out of the hands of Spennymoor Town, who trail the Quakers by 28 points with nine games in hand. Their challenge slipped when they were held to a draw in the local derby at Bishop Auckland.

Andy Johnson’s 35th-minute penalty was saved by Moors’ goalkeeper Robert Dean but he headed in the rebound.

Moors suffered a potentially massive blow on 68 minutes with the sending off of Gavin Cogdon, who will be a big miss serving a suspension. Despite the numerical disadvantage though, Jason Ainsley’s side levelled 10 minutes from time with a Michael Rae header.

Durham City went down to Team Northumbria in a mid-table contest at New Ferens Park where Ben Sayer and the former Washington striker Peter Watling were the matchwinners.

Ryhope CW’s future is uncertain after their facilities failed an inspection by the ENL, who will report their findings to the FA and they will make the final decision.

The Colliers are second top of Division Two following victory over Northallerton Town courtesy of goals from Chris Winn (2) and Chris Trewick. Craig Winter claimed a consolation for the visitors who at one stage were running for promotion but are now out of the race.

Crook Town have one step in the top flight after hitting Chester-le-Street for six, although it wasn’t until the 40th minute that they broke the deadlock with a Richard Hodgson penalty.

He added a second goal on 63 minutes before Crook went rampant in the final seven minutes scoring through Hodgson, who completed a hat-trick, Kevin Devine, Stephen Turnbull and Robbie Bird.

Crook lead the table by eight points from Ryhope, who have three games in hand and Jarrow Roofing are third following victory over Morpeth Town, who are also competing for one of the three promotion places.

Liam McBryde (2) and Dan Smart were the scorers for Richie McLoughlin’s team with Steve Anderson and Alex Benjamin replying. Morpeth would have claimed a point had Anderson not missed a penalty.

Although Seaham Red Star are sixth, their hopes took a knock at Birtley Town for whom Chris Smith hit a dramatic 92th minute winner. Chris Scott gave Star a 13th minute advantage before Alex Denby levelled on 85 minutes.

Washington heaped more misery on relegation-threatened Esh Winning when they romped home with strikes from Ian Davies, Lee Hamilton, Dean Walker and Nick Evans.

Esh stay second bottom, five points ahead of Horden CW who were with a fixture.

Tonight, Washington are away to Tow Law Town, while North Shields need to defeat West Allotment Celtic to rekindle their dwindling hopes of claiming one of the three promotion places.

Chester-le-Street have only pride to play for but they will aim to overcome last week’s defeat by Northallerton Town in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup when the sides again lock horns at Chester Moor Park.

The biggest gate of the night is likely to be at Heritage Park where Bishop Auckland take on Whitley Bay in the quarter-final of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup. The winners will have home advantage over Newcastle Benfield in the semis.

The other semi-final tie is between Dunston UTS and Spennymoor Town.