Sunderland RCA take a break from their impressive First Division form and instead will have Wembley in their sights when they travel to Silsden for tomorrow’s FA Carlsberg Vase first round tie.
It’s four seasons since RCA were challenging at the top end of the table, but such has been their form in recent weeks that they are only three points behind Marske United – despite being held at home by Durham City last weekend.
Tomorrow, they head to West Yorkshire to tackle a Silsden side sitting fourth-bottom in the North West Counties League’s Premier Division.
“We’ve come on leaps and bounds and are on a double-digit unbeaten run which has seen us steadily rise up the table and put us in good spirits for tomorrow,” said manager Martin Swales.
“I’m hoping we can keep the sequence going and reach the next round – which would be a very good achievement.”
The Meadow Park men, though, cannot field goalkeeper James Talbot, who is ineligible because he is on loan from Sunderland.
Jordan Harkess takes over in goal and Lee Archer, James Armstrong and player-coach Colin Larkin come into the plans of Swales, who misses influential captain Clayton Davis and striker Joe Hughes. Reece Noble will wear the arm-band.
The draw was not particularly kind to Northern League clubs and, of the 14 ties, only five have home advantage, including Durham City.
But because they have vacated New Ferens Park, they are also on their travels to the Belle View Stadium in Consett, where they will host Seaham Red Star.
City manager Ian Chandler, who won the Vase with Whitley Bay at Villa Park and managed the Seahorses in three consecutive final wins at Wembley, delays announcing his squad, but will have been encouraged by a four-match unbeaten run in league and cup.
Red Star, surprisingly knocked out of the Durham Challenge Cup by Second Division Whickham on Tuesday night, when they fielded a weakened line-up, are much stronger with the return of Lee Kerr, Chris Scott, Lewis Green and Daniel Robinson.
Chester-le-Street, second-top in Division Two, will hope to make home advantage count, but they face a daunting test against Newton Aycliffe, who have moved into the First Division’s top six on the back of some impressive results in recent weeks.
Four-time winners Whitley Bay are at Northwich Manchester Villa and boss Paddy Atkinson is again beset with injury worries.
Definitely out are goalkeeper Andrew Jennison (broken hand), Chris Reid (hamstring), Phil Lumsden (bruised shin bone) and Richard Flynn (hamstring).
“We’ve got to get back to winning ways. After our FA Cup run ended we seem to be a bit deflated and our form is inconsistent,” observed manager Paddy Atkinson.
Newcastle Benfield are also in Manchester for their tie with Atherton Collieries. Boss Steve Bowey reckons his squad’s confidence is back up following last week’s much-needed win, but he could be without three players.
The suspended Steve Tobin is definitely out, while Mark Turnbull (ankle) and Carl Patterson (back strain) are major doubts.
Ashington are on Humberside for their tie with Dronfield Town and although boss Steve Harmison has striker Dylan Williamson in contention, he’ll need to check the fitness of Ben Christensen, Paul Weldon and Conor Grant before finalising his squad.
Morpeth Town are riding on the crest of a wave after receiving a double boost.
The league management committee has cancelled second-top Shildon’s victory at Ashington earlier in the month because they fielded an ineligible player, due to the lack of international clearance from a previous move.
Although the game will be replayed, the reduction of three points coupled with Morpeth’s victory at Whitley Bay on Tuesday night means the Northumbrians now lead the table by five points.
“I’ve watched West Didsbury and Chorlton twice and they are a good team but if we keep our discipline and don’t become complacent, I’m sure we can come back with a positive result,” claimed manager Nick Gray who can’t call upon Chris Jewels.
Elsewhere, West Auckland head to Hemsworth Miners Welfare, Shildon are at Handsworth Parramore (who lost in the Vase at Sunderland RCA last season), Guisborough host Armthorpe Welfare, Marske United go to Congleton Town and Team Northumbria meet Darlington RA in an all-Second Division tie.
Hebburn will be without Callum Smith and Craig Malley when they travel to Yorkshire club Garforth Town.
The biggest crowd is likely to be at Heritage Park tonight, when Bishop Auckland host the South Shields bandwagon, with the Mariners taking two coaches of fans south and many more going by car.
Shields have former Sunderland star Julio Arca available, and have a near full-strength squad to choose from. However, forward Lewis Teasdale remains suspended.
Consett start favourites against Wearside League opponents Wolviston in the first round of the Durham Challenge Cup.
Manager Colin Myers has Mattie Slocombe back from suspension, but Dan Madden, Ryan Bell, Dan Hawkins and Kieran Megran are on the treatment table.