A trip to Tudhoe this weekend represents Sunderland’s biggest challenge since their last-day relegation from the Premier Division in 2014.
Following Seaham Harbour’s recent points windfall, the South Durham club are now the only team that stand between the Wearsiders and the First Division relegation slot, and defeat would almost certainly see Sunderland propping up the rest come Saturday night.
Neither side has tasted victory so far, but Sunderland’s battling draw at Burnmoor last week has giventhem fresh hope that they are capable of turning the corner.
Conversely, Tudhoe’s form has been desperately poor to date – they have lost all four played games, and by considerable margins.
But they are confident they can turn the corner, seeing this weekend’s fixture as the ideal opportunity to do so, and they have had the extra boost of being able to include two key players with Alex McGrath recovered from a knee injury and keeper Max Parry now free from studying commitments.
Meanwhile, Sunderland expect to field the same XI from last week, the only question mark being over whether Usman Arshad will be added to the mix if Durham commitments allow.
Without the awarding of 23 points by the NEPL Match Play committee for the abandoned game at Washington, Seaham Harbour would be just three points above Tudhoe, but the welcome bonus has temporarily eased concerns for a team who have also lost all four games they have played.
There have been queries over how the figure of 23 points was arrived at and it is understood it includes the normal 15 points for a win, plus eight points calculated on the average bonus points earned in all games played on the day in question.
However it was arrived at it is obviously greatly welcomed by the Harbour as it is 18 more than they would have received for an abandoned match.
With the pressure eased slightly by the bonus, Harbour should approach the home game against Boldon in a better frame of mind, although they do continue to have to contend with the absence of the injured Jack Lacey and the holidaying Stuart Pattison. Michael Stewart and Dylan Bacon deputise.
Three successive wins make Boldon the form team of the moment, and they hope to be able to field the same team that trounced Tudhoe last time out, the only question mark being over the availability of Calum MacLeod.
Unbeaten Sacriston, three points above Boldon in third, face a trip to Washington where their hosts are struggling to get their season going after a couple of washouts and the Harbour match issue.
But after a miserable opening month they managed to notch up their first victory last weekend when holding off the challenge of new boys Mainsforth in a low scoring match, and will be in a better frame of mind to take on Sacriston.
Intriguingly Sacriston, who already have a powerful squad, have suggested there may be ‘one or two’ new signings in the offing, although they are staying tight lipped on those until the deals are done.
In the meantime, Craig Burke is back from his holidays and replaces Matty Winn in a full-strength line-up.
Burnmoor continue their league campaign with a trip to Mainsforth, their hosts now with their feet on firmer ground after the heady opening weeks in which they won their first three games in their new surroundings.
Back-to-back defeats have followed and Moor will be intent on making that three in a row. With Stephen Meek away, and Kevin Dixon attending a social event, they hand bright young prospect Riley Blunt an opportunity alongside the experienced Martin Thursfield.