SUNDERLAND RCA still lead the STL Northern League table but three sides, all with a number of games in hand, are breathing down their necks.
Neil Hixon’s men conceded two vital points in a goalless draw with sixth-placed Newton Aycliffe, who continue to enjoy a good first season in the top flight.
RCA went close when a free-kick was cleared off the line by Sean Tarling but it took a superb save by goalkeeper Neil Atkinson to keep out Aycliffe’s Nathan Wilson.
Spennymoor Town are just four points adrift of RCA having played four fewer games. They enhanced their chances of claiming a third successive title and just about ended Whitley Bay’s hopes when they won by the only goal in front of a bumper crowd of 582 at Hillheads.
Michael Laws was the matchwinner as his header on the hour beat goalkeeper Kyle Hayes. In added time Moor’s keeper Robert Dean made a superb save from Chris Fawcett.
West Auckland Town and Dunston UTS, who were on FA Carlsberg Vase duty, are also in contention in what is now a four-horse race for the title.
At the other end of the table a number of teams are battling to avoid the drop although Stokesley SC are all but mathematically doomed.
A point against South Shields, who are not out of the woods, was just their third in 33 games.
Nathan Porritt’s 87th-minute equaliser was only Stokesley’s 22nd of the season and they have now conceded 142 following Andrew Barclay’s goal for the Mariners.
Tow Law Town have a lot to do to preserve top-flight status. Until the turn of the year Guisborough Town were also in trouble but their fortunes on and off the field have improved.
They are now almost up to halfway after adding another nail in the Lawyers’ coffin when goals by Austin Johnston, Nathan Steel and Michael Roberts earned them a further three points.
Jarrow Roofing have also improved in recent weeks and although still third from the basement, are now equal on points with Penrith.
Darren Reay fired Richie McLoughlin’s side ahead but Ashington hit back for an equaliser by Gareth Bainbridge.
Penrith also claimed a vital point at home to Bedlington Terriers, whose marksmen were Stephen Bowey and Anthony Shandran.
Tim Clasper was an early scorer for the Cumbrians but it was not until the 88th minute that Martin Coleman levelled.
Billingham Town are another side fighting to avoid the drop and their cause wasn’t helped when Consett won with a Lewis Teasdale goal.
In Division Two, the three East Durham sides are all in the bottom three.
Easington Colliery prop up the table although manager Paul Adamson will be encouraged following the draw with Whitehaven, who led courtesy of David Dustin and Craig Robson before Paul Moss bagged a brace of goals.
Horden CW left it late before claiming a crucial point at home to Esh Winning, who led through Craig Nichol. In the last minute, Aaron Ramsbottom went past two defenders and fired past goalkeeper Jake Johnson.
Seaham Red Star held third-top Morpeth Town until the 53rd minute but then conceded to Ashley McAlpine and Stephen Howes in quick succession.
Washington were unable to halt Team Northumbria’s march towards the First Division although the leaders were flattered to win by four goals.
Peter Watling struck twice against his former club and in the second half, Dan Riley and Tom Davies were also on the mark.
Ambitious Gillford Park are second. The ex-Spennymoor Town striker Gavin Barton rifled all four goals in the win against Crook Town.
Birtley Town stay fourth after sharing the points at North Shields who are now down to eighth. John Martin twice found the net for the visitors with John Grey and Paul Gordon on target for the Robins.
Chester-le-Street failed to interrupt West Allotment Celtic’s promotion challenge despite Callum Patton cancelling out Danny Lee’s early effort.
In the last 20 minutes, Shaun Reid converted a penalty and Scott Fenwick also beat goalkeeper Chris Rookes to seal victory.