SUNDERLAND RCA go into tomorrow’s crucial STL Northern League game at Guisborough Town on the crest of a wave.
Not only do they lead the table but on Tuesday the Wearsiders reached the semi-final of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup with victory over arch rival Dunston UTS.
Manager Neil Hixon enthused: “Beating Whitley Bay last Saturday kept our championship hopes alive and we are now into the last four of the League Cup. If you had given me this last August, I would have taken your hand off.”
RCA are unquestionably the most improved side in Division One. Last season they ended 13th but are now top, two points ahead of West Auckland town.
A boost to their chances of maintaining pole position is the return of Craig James and Ian Davison but Andrew Cuthbertson is struggling with a groin injury.
West Auckland Town are second before the visit of Norton and Stockton Ancients who have a full squad available and third-placed Spennymoor Town visit relegation threatened Tow Law Town who have a lot to do if they are to avoid the drop.
Dunston UTS are the fourth team in with a chance of clinching the title and at home to Billingham Synthonia welcome the return of Michael Dixon, Andrew Bullford and Steve Goddard.
Synners are not nearly so fortunate with Robbie Bettson, Curtis Collantine, Chris Emms, Matthew Crossen and Chay Liddle all sidelined. Youngster James Dowson is added to the squad.
Perry Briggs, who recently left Spennymoor Utd where he was number two to Jason Ainsley, has taken over as manager of Newcastle Benfield.
He takes his new sides to Billingham Town who are pleased to have captain Allan Cossavella and Danny O’Brien on board.
Jarrow Roofing miss Darren Reay and Danny Carson but Jamie Marshall is free to play against Consett. Although Roofing have improved in recent weeks they are just one place above the drop zone.
For the first time in years, Whitley Bay have nothing but pride to play for at this stage of the season.
The three-time FA Carlsberg Vase winners are out of the running for honours but manager Ian Chandler will insist that his players look forward and not dwell on the past.
“Following a recent slump we’ve been feeling sorry for ourselves and need to snap out of it. We cannot win something every year,” said Chandler, who cannot name David Coulson, Brian Smith or Chris Fawcett against Bedlington Terriers.
A number of sides are battling to avoid the drop from Division Two although it is expected that only one club will be relegated.
Easington Colliery prop up the table before their visit to Whickham where manager Paul Adamson will be hoping for a repeat of his teams performance at Morpeth Town in mid week.
A blow is the news that Dan Flounders will be out for nine months but Chris Tarn, who has had a lengthy lay-off, could return at The Glebe.
Horden CW are four points ahead of their neighbours with both teams having played the same number of games.
Recently-appointed manager Peter Mulcaster has signed Dan Reeves from Consett, Adam Livingstone (Thornaby) and Darren Atkinson (Bishop Auckland).
He also needs to bring in a goalkeeper before tomorrow’s home game against Darlington RA. Tom Orton broke a leg last weekend and spent three nights is hospital.
Seaham Red Star are the third East Durham side embroiled in the relegation dog fight and assistant manager Kevin Turns reckons they need nine points from their last six games.
They visit Alnwick Town, who are seventh from bottom and will hand a debut to Robbie Blemings, signed from Ryton and Crawcrook Albion.
Chester-le-Street are another side not out of the woods and at home to Ryton name recent signings Lee Cresswell (Hylton CW) Ricky Fenwick (Birtley Town), Luke Proctor (Crook Town) and Kevin Huntrod who is playing in Sunday football.
There is a local derby at the Nissan sports complex between Washington and Birtley Town.
The home side include Chris Bannon, Jake Leighton and Michael Latimer while Birtley, on the fringe of the promotion race, will decide between Neil Bussey and Phil Holgate for the goalkeeping position. Regular stopper Andy Hunter is a definite absentee.