When he took over as Sunderland RCA manager towards the end of last year, Martin Swales declared: “Things can only get better,” and they certainly have!
Twelve months on, the Wearsiders are through to the second round of the FA Carlsberg Vase, and are red-hot favourites to maintain their climb up Division One, by defeating lowly Bedlington Terriers at the Dr Pit Welfare Park tomorrow.
“We’ve created a 13-game unbeaten record which we are hoping to extend. If we play like we have recently, we should get a result,” enthused Swales.
Although it’s highly unlikely, it’s not inconceivable that RCA could reach the dizzy heights of fourth place tomorrow night.
Goalkeeper James Talbot, on loan from Sunderland, returns to the squad after being ineligible for last Saturday’s Vase victory at Silsden.
Glen Lane, Jack Pounder and Andrew Brown also come into contention, but injuries rule out skipper Clayton Davis, Liam Hatch, James Armstrong and Joe Hughes.
Whereas the Meadow Park men are riding on the crest of a wave, Bedlington prop up the table.
Manager Andy Ferrell reckons they have unnecessarily thrown away 15 points, saying: “We are where we are because results have not been good enough. RCA have gone from strength to strength, so it’s going to be another tough game.”
With captain John Pendlebury and Keelan Nellis suspended, Ferrell is anxious that Lance McGlen will be able to play.
Seaham Red Star manager Mark Collingwood is hoping that home advantage will count in an attractive clash with Dunston UTS.
He said: “We’ve had a run of five or six difficult games, but then there are no easy fixtures. We are at home and will give it our best shot.”
Robbie Bird and Phil Gray are available, but neither Harrison Scott nor David Scorer are fit.
Fourth-top Dunston are looking forward to their visit to Seaham Town Park. “It’s a while since we played Seaham, but the two clubs get on well, so we are looking for a good match,” said secretary Bill Montague.
Manager Billy Irwin has Kai Hewitson and Dan Halliday fit and he’s hopeful that Adam Wilkinson will also be able to play, but Scott Martindale serves a one-match ban.
After going unbeaten for 10 games, Washington have taken only one point from their last four and are now down to 10th place – although they have games in hand on eight of the nine sides above them.
Their fixture with Durham City will now be played at the Nissan Sports Complex, where ex-Middlesbrough youngster Bruno Pilatos, signed from Jarrow Roofing, is expected to make his second appearance.
“We had some bad results recently, but you have your ups and downs and we must get on with it. We need three points to get us back into winning ways,” said manager Steven Hutchinson.
Paul Brayson and Mark Convery take charge of Newcastle Benfield following the resignation of manager Steve Bowey and assistant Gareth McAlindon.
The pair face a difficult baptism against title-challengers Guisborough Tow,n who are up to fifth.
Jarrow Roofing host West Allotment Celtic, with only a point separating the sides in the bottom half, although Roofing have four games in hand on the Tynesiders.
Roofing’s fixture last week was washed out and manager Richie McLoughlin used the opportunity to watch Allotment. “They were a good side and beat North Shields, so we’ll have to be up for it,” declared McLoughlin, who has Corey Barnes back.
Ashington manager Steve Harmison has had to contend with an horrendous injury list for most of the season and it’s no better for the clash at home to Consett.
Definitely out are James Harmison, Scott Blandford, James Taylor, Glen Christensen, Paul Weldon, Conor Grant, Michael King and Chris Moore.
Consett, too, have injury concerns with Dan Madden, Dan Hawkins, Ryan Bell and Keiran Megran sitting out match.
Morpeth Town, with a five-point lead over Shildon at the top of the table, entertain Newton Aycliffe, with goalkeeper Karl Dryden back in the fold.