Neil Hixon: title race is wide open

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ALTHOUGH they have played more games than their rivals, Sunderland RCA manager Neil Hixon insists the race for the STL Northern League championship is wide open.

Ahead of tomorrow’s crucial game against Whitley Bay at Meadow Park, he said: “We are still in the mix with West Auckland Town, Spennymoor Town and Dunston UTS.

“We’ve still got to play all of them so it’s going to be an interesting run-in. If we were to beat the three of them, then who knows where we might be, come the end of the season?”

Hixon has been working on trying to bring in one new player to boost a squad which is down to just 16 tomorrow, but so far he’s had no luck.

It’s uncertain whether Robert Briggs, on loan from Gateshead, will play again this season after breaking an arm in a recent game and also on the injured list is Andy Cuthbertson.

Whitley Bay are still fourth-from-top, but have almost certainly blown their chances of clinching the title.

Manager Ian Chandler accepts the Seahorses have been a bit short against top six sides.

He said: “We haven’t beaten one of the top six this season and this has been our Achilles’ heel. We have a chance to put that right tomorrow, but it won’t be easy. RCA are still in the hunt and will battle all the way for the three points.”

David Coulson is sidelined with a knee injury while Lee Paul Scroggins starts a five-match ban.

FA Carlsberg Vase semi-finalists West Auckland Town face another difficult challenge at Bedlington Terriers, who are anxious to finish in the top six.

“I would love to see West Auckland reach the Vase final, but we have our own ambitions and beating them tomorrow will boost our chances,” said joint-manager Tony Lowery.

Dunston UTS are also through to the last four of the Vase and in contention for the championship.

They visit Newton Aycliffe and boss Billy Irwin said he couldn’t feel better.

“It was unbelievable last weekend when we beat Peterborough Northern Star and I feel we have a great chance of going all the way to Wembley,” said Irwin, who adds Michael Chilton to his squad.

At the bottom, Tow Law Town are at home to Jarrow Roofing – a must-win game for both teams.

Lewis Brown and Stephen Turnbull, both signed from Bishop Auckland, are named in the Lawyers squad, but Andrew Thompson is unavailable.

Danny Carson and David Anderson are definite absentees for Jarrow. Kevin Davison is given only a 50/50 chance of playing, but Josh Allen comes into contention.

South Shields are also in the bottom six, but they too were boosted in midweek when they surprisingly defeated Newton Aycliffe.

Ashington are the visitors to Filtrona Park and manager Gary Middleton misses Phil Bell, with a leg injury.

Midfielders Michael Tait and Andrew Johnson will both undergo fitness checks before kick-off.