LEADERS Sunderland RCA start firm favourites against Division One’s bottom club, Stokesley SC, at Meadow Park tomorrow.
RCA manager Neil Hixon reckons the Wearsiders were as good as defending champions Spennymoor despite losing Tuesday’s Durham Challenge Cup tie.
“Until we conceded an own goal and then a second goal immediately afterwards, we were bang in with a chance which proves that we can take on the best,” declared Hixon, who welcomes back Richie Paxton and goalkeeper Neil Atkinson.
Stokesley, beaten 6-1 by RCA in September, have picked up only one point all season,
West Auckland are second, equal on points with RCA before their home encounter with Marske United, while Whitley Bay aim to keep the pressure on the top two by defeating Consett.
Boss Ian Chandler has signed Darren Timmons from Blyth Spartans and Matthew Crook (Chester-le-Street), who will deputise for Kyle Hayes should he fail a fitness test.
Tow Law have a fight on their hands to avoid the drop.
Manager Ian Davison, though, has been encouraged by recent performances and, with a settled squad, is confident that the Lawyers can retain First Division status.
At home to South Shields tomorrow, Davison misses Stephen Banks and Lewis Harrison, who could be out the remainder of the season.
Shields have climbed to relative safety, but boss Jon King is unhappy at the goals his side is conceding.
“Only Jarrow Roofing and Stokesley have leaked more and this is something I need to address,” he said.
“I’m looking to bring in a couple of defenders with the aim of finishing in the middle of the table.”
Peter Kane, signed from Jarrow Roofing, and Scott Fenwick (West Allotment) are named in the Mariners’ squad, but Lee Bell, Johnny Wightman and Stephen Ramsey are definitely non-starters.
Jarrow Roofing are also embroiled in the battle against relegation and manager Richie McLoughin has shored up his defence by signing Whitby keeper Andrew Courtney.
Kevin Davison is injured and Dave Anderson is given only 50-50 change of playing at Dunston UTS.
Bedlington Terriers have lost Steven Richardson to Spennymoor and Dean Douglas has joined Gillford Park.
Joint manager Tony Lowery awaits news on the fitness of Steve Bowey and Kevin Morton. Colin Morton has returned to training, but it is too soon for him to make his comeback against Bishop Auckland tomorrow (1pm).