WITH the season drawing to a close, mathematically five teams are battling to avoid joining already-relegated Crook Town in the Second Division next season.
Realistically though, Celtic Nation are almost doomed, leaving four teams to fight it out to avoid the third spot.
No other side has played less games than ourselves so our destiny is definitely in our own hands but we’ve got to make the 11 matches we’ve got left countRob Jones
Sunderland RCA are currently third from bottom going into their crucial fixture with Newcastle Benfield at Sam Smith’s Park tomorrow, but they have several games in hand on the three teams above them.
“Benfield have enjoyed a good second half of the season but we need to get points on the board and will be going all out for a win,” said RCA secretary Rob Jones.
The Wearsiders are only a point adrift of Billingham Synthonia but have played six fewer games.
“No other side has played less games than ourselves so our destiny is definitely in our own hands but we’ve got to make the 11 matches we’ve got left count,” added Jones, who reports that Stephen Callen (groin) is ruled out.
Colin Larkin, meanwhile, who joined the club as a striker, has taken up a position as player-coach.
At the turn of the year, Newcastle Benfield were looking over their shoulders at the bottom of the table, but a resurgence has lifted them into the top half.
Last week’s defeat was a rare setback and they’ll be confident of gaining revenge for a 3-0 defeat by RCA earlier in the season.
“To be fair, they defeated us convincingly and it’s going to be a tough battle at our place. They’ll be fighting for their lives and we will need to be up for the challenge,” claimed player-manager Steve Bowey, who is very close to making a comeback from injury.
Definitely in is Chris Nolan, but work commitments sideline the hugely influential Dan Taylor.
Billingham Synthonia, who have only ever played one season in the Second Division, are in grave danger of going down.
They have only five games left, starting against championship challengers Marske United and, ravaged by a long unavailability list, could be heading for another defeat.
The Synners cannot name captain Steven Huggins, David Abel, Andrew Burton, Chris Dodds, Matthew Osmond and Dan Dillon.
West Allotment Celtic are also involved in the relegation dogfight and they take on Shildon, another side in with a chance in with the title.
A boost for manager Paul Stoneman is that he has a full squad of 21 players to choose from, including Ian Dunn and Liam Watson who missed the midweek fixture.
Newton Aycliffe are too near the bottom for comfort, especially after losing in midweek and could again find it difficult against Morpeth Town whose manager Nick Gray reports his only absentee is Michael Fenwick.
In contrast, Durham City are sitting comfortably, just above halfway, and, for the visit of Dunston UTS to New Ferens Park, manager Ian Chandler’s only absentee is Aiden Haley with an injured foot.
“If things go as they’ve done so far this season we should do well,” said Chandler.
“We’ve let ourselves down against lesser teams but performed better against those sides near the top – and Dunston come into this category.”