Five to Watch: Non-league expert Mark Carruthers returns with his pick of the festive fixtures

Our non-league expert Mark Carruthers returns with his five games to watch this festive weekend.

Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 5:00 pm
Mark Carruthers returns with his five games to watch.

Gateshead v Blyth Spartans

Date: Sunday 26th December

Competition: Vanarama National League

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Venue: International Stadium

Kick-off Time: 3pm

Gateshead are the form side in the National League North after winning nine of their last ten league fixtures.

They head into their Boxing Day derby against Blyth Spartans with two aims - to keep up the pressure on the top two in the table and to finally notch a win against their local rivals.

For all of Spartans struggles over the last two seasons, they remain unbeaten against the Heed after securing two home draws and a dramatic 3-2 win at the International Stadium two years ago.

This is arguably the strongest squad Spartans have possessed over the last two and a half years but they are still sat at the wrong end of the table with just 12 points from 17 games.

That form needs to be rectified quickly if they are to move away from the relegation zone - but they face an uphill task if they are to do so at the home of their high-flying rivals.

Player to Watch: Cedwyn Scott (Gateshead)

Spennymoor Town v Darlington

Date: Sunday 26th December

Competition: Vanarama National League North

Venue: Brewery Field

Kick-off Time: 3pm

Derby games between Spennymoor Town and Darlington always provide intrigue, entertainment and no end of passion from both sides.

But this particular clash has the added ingredient of being Spennymoor’s first home game under the control of new joint-managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley.

The duo have a bit of history with Darlington from their time at Salford City and I am sure they would love nothing better than to introduce themselves to the Brewery Field faithful with a win over their local rivals.

Neither side are in great form ahead of Sunday’s game and are currently sat separated by one point and two places in mid-table.

A win this weekend will not define their season - but it could ignite a push towards the play-off places.

Player to Watch: Rob Ramshaw (Spennymoor Town)

Newcastle Benfield v West Allotment Celtic

Date: Sunday 26th December

Competition: Ebac Northern League Division One

Venue: Sam Smith’s Park

Kick-off Time: Midday

Northern League fixtures are few and far between over the festive period as the league takes a well deserved break after a hectic start to the season.

That’s not to say supporters are left without any options with Newcastle Benfield’s home game against Tyneside rivals West Allotment Celtic providing an entertaining start to Boxing Day football.

It seems highly likely Steve Bowey and Paul Brayson will remain in temporary charge of Benfield following the recent exit of former manager Stuart Elliott.

The experienced duo led their side to a goalless draw at Division One leaders Consett in the first game of their temporary stint and they will need a similar performance against West Allotment.

The visitors have moved on from a challenging start to the season and currently sit just four points shy of a place in the top half of the table after winning four of their last five league fixtures.

Jay Bates’ men have also found their shooting boots during that run and will be hoping to add to the 17 goals they have scored during that quintet of fixtures.

Player to Watch: Matty Hayton (West Allotment Celtic)

North Shields v Whitley Bay

Date: Monday 27th December

Competition: Ebac Northern League Division One

Venue: Daren Persson Stadium

Kick-off Time: 11am

El Clasicoast? El Coastico? No matter what you call it, this North Tyneside derby rarely fails to deliver something special.

It is safe to say Whitley Bay and North Shields are in contrasting form ahead of their meeting at the latter’s Daren Persson Stadium.

North Shields are sat third in table and are unbeaten in any competition since they were beaten at home by Ryhope CW over two months ago.

They have reached the fourth round of the FA Vase and remain in the hunt for the Brooks Mileson League Cup, Northumberland Senior Cup and Division One title.

By contrast, Whitley Bay will make the short trip on Bank Holiday Monday looking to move on from four poor defeats against Newton Aycliffe (8-0), Ashington (6-1), Northallerton Town (3-2) and West Allotment Celtic (4-3).

Confidence at Hillheads must be brittle as they prepare to meet their nearest and dearest.

They say the form book goes out of the window in derby games - Whitley Bay will be hoping to prove that point by racking up what would be a shock win on Monday.

Player to Watch: Dan Wilson (North Shields)

Marske United v Stockton Town

Date: Monday 27th December

Competition: Pitching-In Northern Premier League East Division

Venue: Mount Pleasant

Kick-off Time: 3pm

It is just under four years since these two sides met in an action-packed two-legged FA Vase semi-final as Stockton Town shocked Marske to reach Wembley for the first time.

Both clubs have progressed beyond recognition in the time that has passed and it is Marske that will be heavy favourites to claim a win over the Anchors to give a further boost to their romp towards promotion.

Only an inferior goal difference keeps Carl Jarrett’s side from the top of the East Division table and they have lost just one of their 17 league fixtures so far this season.

Striker Adam Boyes has already plundered his way to 35 goals in all competitions and will surely pass a half century of goals by the end of the campaign.

The threat of Stockton Town can not be overlooked and Michael Dunwell’s side make the short trip to Mount Pleasant sat in the fourth and final play-off spot after embarking on an unbeaten run of seven league matches.

This one should be an absolute cracker!

Player to Watch: Adam Boyes (Marske United)