A YEAR ago, Birtley Town were well and truly in the doldrums but they have improved to such an extent that manager Scott Oliver is aiming for a top eight finish in the STL Northern League Second Division.
He said: “We ended bottom last season with just 16 points. Already, we have 42 points and still have seven games to play.
“We are 10th going into tonight’s home fixture with Darlington RA and I see no reason why we cannot end at least eighth which would be a great achievement.”
Despite losing three keys players in recent weeks, Birtley have lost only two of their last 11 games.
“Martin Roper, who had scored 20 goals, Michael Latimer and Nicky Evans all went to West Allotment Celtic but the other lads have just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it,” enthused Oliver.
Roy Gordon, who plays for Annfield Plain on Saturdays, is in line to make his debut tonight and Shaun McEvoy also comes into Oliver’s plans but Michael Young and Paul Bonnick are working.
Following back-to-back wins when they scored eight times, Seaham Red Star were well beaten at the weekend and boss Kevin Turns is looking for improvement at home to Whitehaven.
“I think playing last Thursday and again on Saturday was too much and Hebburn Town were the better team.
“We’ve got to get out of the blocks quickly tonight and see what Whitehaven are made of following a long journey,” declared Turns, who is forced into making changes.
Anthony Laidler and Chris McCabe are suspended while captain Colin Wright, Gary Anderson and Liam Hodgson are working.
Stephen Jackson has completed a ban and also named are Ryan Consitt, Elliott Hughes and Leigh Guthrie, who could be handed his debut.
Dave Smith, recently appointed AS Washington’s manager, is working hard to revive the Newtowners’ fortunes and he could include two new players at Marske United.
Will Caris and Glen Reay are definite absentees while Graeme Liddle and Alan Oliver will undergo late checks on their fitness.
In Division One, FA Carlsberg Vase semi-finalists Whitley Bay aim to stretch their winning sequence to 12 games at Dunston UTS.
Experienced goalkeeper Terry Burke cannot play tonight but Chandler has no hesitation in naming young Kyle Hayes, who has been outstanding when deputising for Burke.
Callum Anderson is also sidelined but Gary Ormston, Paul Robertson and David Coulson are added to the squad.
After taking just one point from their last three games, Sunderland RCA look to have a good chance of returning to winning form at Bishop Auckland, who sank into the relegation zone when they conceded five goals on Saturday.
Spennymoor Town, third-top only four points behind leaders Shildon with five games in hand, aim to take another step towards retaining the championship when they line-up with South Shields at The Brewery Field.