STL Northern League
by Malcolm Pratt
SUNDERLAND RCA are aiming to finish midway in the First Division, but even if they do not achieve their objective, manager Neil Hixon will still claim they have enjoyed a fantastic season.
Hixon said: “It’s never easy during your first season following promotion. We made a horrendous start, claiming just two points from the first nine games, but we’ve come a long way since then.
“We now have 45 points, just one fewer than Bishop Auckland, who are mid-table, two places above us.
“We’ve got to try to win the last two matches and end above them and Billingham Synthonia, but even if we don’t, I will reckon we will still have enjoyed a good first season in the top flight.”
Tomorrow, the Wearsiders play their penultimate game when on-song Ashington visit Meadow Park, but Hixon is missing five players.
Marc Ellison and Richard Logan are banned, while Harrison Davies, John Toft and Joe Fairish are injured.
But Gary Shields, Wayne Henderson, Mattie Tymon and Keith Graydon, who were all cup-tied for Monday’s Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup semi-final against Spennymoor, return.
Hixon added: “It was disappointing losing to Spennymoor when I thought we were the better side over 90 minutes. It was still an achievement reaching the semis and no disgrace going out to Spennymoor, who look likely to win the championship.”
Ashington’s only absentee is the banned Steven Shaw.
Spennymoor will hope to take another step towards the title, but Jason Ainsley’s men could find it difficult at second-top Newcastle Benfield, who are six points behind.
Benfield miss Phil Lumsden, while Adam Rowntree and Brian Dodsworth face fitness tests.
Moors must do without Adam Johnston, who sustained a serious leg injury at Bedlington on Wednesday.
With just two games to play, third-placed Shildon are out of the race and fifth-top Consett need to win at Dean Street to keep alive their lingering hopes.
Whitley Bay are fourth going into their fixture at Tow Law, but manager Ian Chandler has not given up hope of the title – despite last week’s end of their 18-match unbeaten run to Ashington.
He said: “Spennymoor and Benfield play each other tomorrow and we still have both of them to play, so anything could happen. All we can do is pick up as many points as possible, but clearly we’ve got to come out on top at Tow Law.”
Paul Chow (leg) is a definite absentee, but Bay are optimistic that the prolific striker will be available for next month’s FA Carlsberg Vase Final against Coalville at Wembley.
West Auckland go to West Allotment, while Bishop Auckland welcome Billingham Town to Heritage Park.
In Division Two last night, Washington went down by the only goal to Brandon United whose matchwinner was Jim Bowman with a 25-yard drive into the top corner of the net which gave goalkeeper Dave Lanning no chance.
H Newcastle Benfield beat Shildon 3-1 to reach the final of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup, where they will meet Spennymoor Town.