MANY neutral observers believe that Sunderland RCA are too good to go down but it is a fact that they are just one point and two places above the drop zone in Division One of the Ebac Northern League.
The Wearsiders’ form has dipped alarmingly in recent weeks and with only four games to play they need to start putting points on the board.
Neil Hixon’s side face another difficult test tomorrow when in-form Dunston UTS arrive at Meadow Park.
Following the three-goal defeat at Consett on Wednesday, Hixon will need to do a roll call but Dunston have few serious injury concerns.
Stephen Goddard and Steven Picking return and it’s expected that goalkeeper Liam Connell will come through a fitness test.
Norton and Stockton Ancients would have been relegated had they lost in midweek but they surprisingly defeated Bedlington Terriers to cling on their faint hopes.
Tomorrow’s Teesside derby with Billingham Town is crucial to the survival chances of both teams.
Billingham are third from bottom with only three games to play and their manager Carl Jarrett reckons they need another four or five points to guarantee safety.
Norton, who have played three times in five days, haven’t announced their squad while Billingham welcome back Stephen Flockett and Craig Perry.
South Shields are second from bottom and following five wins on the bounce and manager Jon King has not given up hope.
He said: “We’ve got to treat the last four games as cup finals. We’ve built up momentum and the lads are confident. Who knows, we could upset the form book at Whitley Bay.”
A triple blow for the Mariners however is that Lee Bell, Barrie Smith and Kenny Ball are suspended.
Andy Barclay is given only a 50-50 chance of being passed fit but Tony Coe and Adam Burnicle return.
Whitley Bay still have their eyes set on a top three finish and boss Ian Chandler names James Norvak, Brad Brooking, Lee Paul Scoggins and Lee Kerr but awaits fitness reports on Callum Anderson, Chris Reid, David Pounder and Ian Watson.
Chandler could again include Dillon Blake, Lewis Burns, Kyle Downey and Liam Harris who all impressed when called up from the reserves last weekend.
Newcastle Benfield are fourth from the basement, only a point behind RCA and with a better goals difference. The Tynesiders though could find the going difficult at Bishop Auckland, one of only six teams to have taken anything from leaders Darlington 1883 this season.
There is a real six pointer when Marske United and Penrith clash. The pair are also embroiled in a relegation dog fight but an advantage for Penrith is that they have several more games to play than all of their rivals in distress.
Durham City manager Adam Furness is confident his side will end with a flourish and finish in the top half of the table.
The Citizens play their last game of the season at New Ferens Park with Guisborough Town providing the opposition.
Furness observed: “It’s a really important game for us but unfortunately we are down to the bare bones with Craig Ellison and Steve Jones now added to a long list of absentees.
“We’ll have to patch a few players up but I’m still optimistic I can get a result.”
Spennymoor Town, still in with a chance of pipping Darlington 1883 for the title, go to Hebburn Town who miss Jack Forsyth, Lee Harrison, Stephen Foster and brothers Dean and Stuart Nicholson.
Only a few week ago Consett were too near the bottom for comfort but have surged into ninth place on the back of some impressive results.
Manger Kenny Lindoe, who guided Brandon United to the Championship in the 90s, reports that Keiran Martin is on trial in Holland. Also missing for the visit of Billingham Synthonia are leading scorer Michael McKay, David Scorer and Scott Martindale.