Seaham Town Park stages a mouthwatering local derby between Seaham Red Star and Sunderland RCA on Boxing Day, with a noon kick-off set to help attract a healthy crowd.
Red Star are beginning to find their feet in Division One after gaining promotion last season and a win could lift them to mid-table, while RCA have the chance to climb back up to sixth if they return home with all three points.
“RCA are having a very good season and we look forward to entertaining our nearest rivals. It promises to be a cracking game,” enthused Star secretary David Copeland.
Red Star have been rocked by the news that Lewis Wing has been recalled by Shildon. “He was on loan and, during his time with us, Lewis was exceptional,” added Copeland.
Daryl Donnelly has completed a ban and there’s a chance that manager Mark Collingwood could have Liam McBryde in his squad. He has been sidelined for some considerable time.
Recently, RCA boss Martin Swales signed Andrew Hunter from Jarrow Roofing as goalkeeping cover for Jordan Harkess, following Sunderland’s decision to recall James Talbot to the Stadium of Light.
Tomorrow, Hunter goes straight into the fray as Harkess recovers from a broken jaw.
Also missing are Luke Richardson and Stephen Callen, but Liam Hatch is back and there’s a chance that James Armstrong will pass a fitness test.
“I’ve watched Red Star a couple of times and, as in all local derbies, it’s going to be tough, but we are in good form, buoyed after defeating Durham City in the Durham Challenge Cup on Wednesday night,” said Swales, whose men beat Red Star at Meadow Park in August.
Durham City play their “home” fixture with Consett at the Belle View Stadium (noon) and manager Chris Moore cannot name Moussa Bakhti, who has returned to France for the festive season, Tom Gilbey or Mike King.
Harvey Saunders, ineligible for the midweek cup tie, comes into the reckoning, as will Ross Stead if he recovers fitness in time.
Following four straight defeats, which has seen them plunge to mid-table, Consett boss Colin Myers is looking to stop the rot.
A boost to the Steelmen’s chances is the return of Stephen Little and Lance McGlen to a full-strength squad.
Leaders Morpeth Town and second-top Shildon clash in the match-of-the-day at Craik Park (11am). A win for the Northumbrians would extend their lead to four points, but should the Railwaymen come out of top, they will move into pole position.
Guisborough Town are third going into their home game with Marske United (11am) and Dunston UTS, in fourth place, entertain improving West Auckland Town (1pm).
Now that he has completed a ban, Steve Bowey is expected to feature at some stage for Dunston, who will not take their visitors lightly.
“They may be in the relegation zone but have improved lately and are fighting for their lives, so it will not be easy,” said long-serving secretary Bill Montague.
Bedlington Terriers have also shown better form recently, but they, too, are still in the bottom three before tackling neighbours Ashington in an 11am start.
“We are not out of the woods by a long chalk, but, with seven points from the last four games, we are off the bottom and can now see light at the end of the tunnel,” said manager Andy Ferrell.
Terriers are without injured pair Mark Dummett (hamstring) and Paul Stoneman (ankle), but Ferrell is still confident of taking something from the game.
“We are on a decent run and, in a derby, the form-book goes out of the window. They embarrassed us in the reverse fixture, so I’m looking to avenge that defeat – but the lads will need to fire on all cylinders,” added Ferrell.
Ashington boss Steve Harmison has been beset with a long injury list all season, but, on Saturday, there is a chance of him being able to name his strongest 16.
This will depend on whether his brother James, Dylan Williamson, Ollie Hotchkiss and James Taylor successfully come through fitness tests.
Newcastle Benfield joint-manager Paul Brayson reports there’s a chance that goalkeeper Andy Grainger could return to action in the home game with North Shields (11am).
Grainger hasn’t played since last season after undergoing an operation in May and another long-term absentee, Mark Turnbull, could also make a comeback.
He hs been out for two months after suffering an ankle injury against Penrith.
North Shields are again forced to go without Adam Forster and John Grey, but Dean Holmes and Stuart Donnison come into Graham Fenton’s squad. So, too, do recent signings Brad Brooking and Shaun Gadsby.
Bay manager Paddy Atkinson welcomes back Richard Flynn and Michael Laws.
Washington are away to Jarrow Roofing in the only game to be played on Monday (noon).
The biggest gate in either division is certain to be at Mariners Park where rampant South Shields host Hebburn Town.
It is the only fixture to begin at 3pm, with more than 1,300 tickets already sold, although fans will be able to pay at the gate too.
Crook Town host Whickham at 11zam, while Tow Law entertain Willington at 1pm.
Ryhope CW have put back their home game against Easington Colliery to Tuesday (7.30pm), as have Chester-le-Street, who host Birtley.