By Malcolm Pratt
RYHOPE CW are now outsiders in the two-horse race for the title after they succumbed 2-0 to reigning champions and leaders Stockton Town on Saturday.
Kalumn Hannah gave the Teessiders the lead after half an hour following a goalmouth scramble and midway through the second half Ryhope were left with a formidable challenge as Adam Nicholson also beat goalkeeper Ryan Graham.
Both sides have five games to play. Stockton have a six-point advantage over their rivals who have a better goals difference of six.
Redcar Athletic, who are competing for third place with Cleator Moor Celtic, were without a game and the Cumbrians extended their advantage to four points with victory at Easington Colliery.
The East Durham side fielded a severely weakened team and manager Paul Frame played for most of the first half.
Not surprisingly, Cleator coasted to victory after Tom Mahone and Callum Jackman (pen) struck in the first half. It was all over for the Colliers as Jackman converted a second spot-kick seven minutes from time.
Silksworth CW’s are still hopeful of finishing in the top six but their cause wasn’t helped when they went down to Wolviston for whom David Johnson scored the only goal, from the penalty spot.
Two minutes later Andrew Place was sent off leaving the Wearsiders to play the last 13 minutes with 10 men.
A penalty was also all that separated Sunderland West End from Harton and Westoe. With just five minutes left on the clock John Coomber stepped up and beat Harton goalkeeper Gary Frater.
There was no shortage of goals for Horden CW who went nap at home to Seaton Carew – thanks to a five-star performance from ace marksman Haydn Pace.
His hat-trick and one goal from Martin Fowler – a spectacular shot from 30 yards – had the Colliers coasting by just past the hour mark.
With five minutes remaining Luke Naylor reduced the deficit but immediately Pace scored his fourth goal. A minute from the end Ben Wignall claimed a second consolation for Seaton.
Hartlepool marginally improved their chances of avoiding the wooden spoon by holding Annfield Plain to a draw.
A tremendous strike by Lee Mole gave Pool’s goalkeeper Shauny Scotter no chance but when Annfield were awarded a penalty, Scotter this time saved Mole’s spot-kick.
Pools had Gary Maughan sent off but were still strong enough to claim an 85th-minute equaliser from David Thompson.
Coxhoe Athletic are one place above Hartlepool with a game in hand. They conceded to Jarrow’s Andrew Wilkinson and Grant Pressling but when Ryan Keltie struck, the visitors were in with a chance.
However, substitute Graeme Bailes, who had just been introduced, pounced on a rebound and there was no way back for Coxhoe.
Gateshead Leam Rangers are third from the basement, equal on points with Coxhoe who have played two fewer fixtures.
Ben Palmer, Scott Ryan and Kalumn Holbrook earned fifth-placed Richmond Town the points at Leam.