Just five points separating the pair, so the outcome of tomorrow’s First Division clash between Sunderland RCA and Dunston UTS at Meadow Park is crucial.
For much of the season, the Tynesiders have insisted that they are simply rebuilding, but they have moved up to third place on the back of several impressive displays.
RCA, meanwhile, are enjoying their best campaign for four years and are eighth, with a game in hand on their opponents.
Manager Martin Swales commented: “It was disappointing that our long unbeaten sequence came to an end last weekend. We had done quite well and beat Dunston in the Durham Challenge Cup.
“I’m looking for a return to winning form and complete the double over Billy Irwin’s side – but it will be a tough game. Dunston are on a good run.”
There’s a chance that captain Clayton Davis will be involved at some stage. He has been sidelined by injury for three months and is gradually building up to full fitness.
Wayne Buchanan will also need his injury assessed, but RCA definitely miss James Armstrong and Michael Charlton.
Dunston are keen for the match to go ahead as they prepare for next week’s mouth-watering FA Carlsberg Vase tie against Seaham Red Star.
“We are under no illusions that it will be a very tough contest,” said long-serving secretary Bill Montague. “They’ve been on a great run. Let’s just hope the match goes ahead because we need a game under our belts ahead of next Saturday’s important match.”
Manager Irwin has Stephen Bowey suspended, but his only doubt surrounds goalkeeper Liam Connell.
Seaham Red Star can’t wait for next week’s Vase tie, but, before then, entertain North Shields, who lifted the Vase at Wembley in May.
“We are looking for a decent crowd as we prepare for next Saturday. Hopefully, we’ll get something out of the game,” declared secretary David Copeland, who reports that David Palmer has re-signed from Bishop Auckland.
Dan Robinson, though, has moved to West Allotment Celtic. Paul Gardner (suspended) and Lewis Wing (unavailable) miss out, but Lee Kerr has regained fitness.
Two players who featured for North Shields at Wembley will not be on the field at Seaham, with Adam Forster and John Grey on manager Graham Fenton’s injury list.
Also missing will be the suspended Jordan Summerly, but there’s a chance that striker Gareth Bainbridge will successfully come through a fitness check.
Chris Moore and Paul Wilkinson take charge of Durham City for only the second time, away to Whitley Bay.
Bay are probably in a false position, fourth from bottom, since they have played only 13 games – far fewer than any other side.
Boss Paddy Atkinson reckons, though, that it’s time to put points on the board.
He declared: “We’ve got to make the games in hand start to count. We can’t play ‘nice’ football and not get results. Fortunately, I’ve got Richard Flynn and Phil Lumsden back tomorrow.”
Leaders Morpeth Town and Shildon both suffered defeats last weekend. The Northumbrians, with a five-point lead, entertain Washington at Craik Park and boss Nick Gray claims they’ve had a good week of training.
He said: “They’ve got good quality players and it’ll be a tough game. We only managed a draw with them earlier in the season.”
Gray misses long-term injury victim Chris Jewels, and Jordan Fry will undergo a fitness test before kick-off.
The Mechanics are hoping to at least repeat the form which earned them a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture and their chances are enhanced with manager Steven Hutchinson likely to have a full squad at his disposal.
Second-top Shildon travel to bottom-of-the-table Norton, who have Ryan Braithwaite out injured.
Bedlington Terriers moved off the basement with last week’s win over Durham City and manager Andy Ferrell is looking for another three points against Newcastle Benfield.
If Mark Dummett is declared fit, Ferrell will name the same starting line-up for the first time this season.
Benfield joint manager Paul Brayson is confident Mark Turnbull will resume following a six-week lay-off, but he has concerns for the availability of Dean Walker.