Carl Beasley returns for Sunderland RCA

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SUNDERLAND RCA made a poor start to their first season back in the STL Northern League First Division but have improved to such an extent that they are now in the top half of the table.

On Monday, they had their biggest gate for more than a decade and chairman Owen Haley is adamant the Wearsiders’ season is most definitely alive.

He said: “Neil Hixon has wheeled and dealed on the transfer front and transformed the squad. Although we lost to Whitley Bay earlier in the week, we gave them a good game and our aim is to finish in the top half of the table which would be a good result.”

Tomorrow, RCA visit South Shields where they welcome the return of captain Carl Beasley, who has been outstanding all season.

Striker Martin Smith is, however, ruled out with a knee injury and Richard Logan is expected to spearhead the attack.

It is very much nip and tuck at the top of the table. Consett lead the field ahead of their game at Norton & Stockton Ancients where manager Kenny Lindoe will have a near full-strength side on stand by.

His only absentee is Lewis Teasdale who hasn’t played since October.

“We’ve got an extremely difficult month coming up and by then we’ll know whether we are still in contention for the title,” observed Lindoe, who steered Brandon United to the championship in 2003.

Norton are eighth top during only their second ever season in the top flight. They miss Nathan Mulligan and Andrew Burton but Callum Brown and Shaun Clarke could be back.

With Spennymoor Town on FA Carlsberg Vase duty, third placed Shildon have the chance to close a five-point gap when they host Stokesley.

Newcastle Benfield are fourth before the visit of West Auckland Town to Sam Smiths ground. The pair are equal on points but Benfield have two games in hand on their rivals.

In Division Two, Horden CW face a massive test at leaders Newton Aycliffe, who have lost just twice in 26 games.

Manager Brian Honour is uncertain whether Jack Sharples, who this week has been on trial with Stockport County, will be able to play.

Ashley Corker is back from Stockport but is doubtful with a groin injury while Lee Armes and Chris Rookes are definite absentees.

Chester-le-Street cannot name Craig Marron, Jordan Fraser or Ben Johnson but Gary Shields, Nick Kane and Stephen Halliday are expected to play at Team Northumbria.

Washington go to Darlington RA who have scored ten times in their last two games. The Newtowners will need to assess the fitness of David Fort.