Top half the target again for Hixon

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DESPITE Steering Sunderland RCA into fourth position in the Ebac Northern League last season, manager Neil Hixon insists the aim is to finish in the top half of the table this time.

He said: “I’m putting no pressure on anybody. I really believe we punched above our weight and it will be difficult to replicate the performance.

“Let’s just say that a top half finish will be acceptable and if we do better, that will be great”.

The Wearsiders open their programme with a visit to Ashington in the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup but a couple of new signings are unable to make their debuts.

David Gordon, signed from Shildon and Andrew Appleby (Whitby Town) are injured so too is Jamie Davis.

Mark Davison and Joe Walton have moved to Spennymoor Town, Andrew Cuthbertson and Ian Davison have joined Consett while Andrew Jennings (Billingham Synthonia) and Craig James (Whitby Town) have exited Meadow Park.

Ashington, who ended fifth last time, have been active on the transfer front with a quartet of notable signings.

Phil Cave (Whitley Bay), Gareth Williams (Blyth Spartans), Paul Antony (Newcastle Benfield) and Josh Gray, the ex-Darlington player, have all moved to Woodhorn Lane.

“We have a tricky start against RCA and a disappointment is losing Johnny Godsmark with a broken leg. He will probably not play again before Christmas and Marc Walton is also out tomorrow” observed Gary Middleton.

Chester-le-Street have made a number of signings ahead of their tie against Billingham Town at Chester Moor Park.

Ian Davison, Nick Doyle, Ollie Forsyth, Michael Hepplewhite, Lewis Lynch, Mark Nixon, Michael Robson, Adam Scope, Adam Strong, Lewis Brown, Stephen Turnbull, Stephen Buzzeo and Mattie Book have all been snapped up by new manager Colin Wake.

Luke Gillespy, Dan smith, Johnny Evans, Paul Wardle, Alan Croft and James Fairley have found new clubs while Alex Ryan is studying in America.

“It is too early to predict how we will do. We had some difficult pre-season friendlies but came through okay but it will take a new squad time to gel” claimed chairman Joe Burlison.

Billingham Town will be without James Crossman and Chris Dunwell, who is recovering from a broken leg.

Durham City, back in the Ebac Northern League, kick off at home to former rivals Newcastle Benfield who will hand debuts to Luke Gillespy, David Pounder, Gary Ormeston and Darren Timmons.

Washington have a home tie with Second Division rivals Esh Winning and manager Richie Latimer would have liked to have played more pre-season games.

He said: “It was a bit of a nightmare with injuries and we’ll just have to see how we go tomorrow. I cannot include new signing Ross Atkinson. I’ve only signed a couple of players and was more than happy with last season’s squad.”

Spennymoor town, among the favourites to clinch the Championship, have an attractive game with Scarborough Athletic at the Brewery Field.

Manager Jason Ainsley has brought in a number of players to boost what was already a formidable squad.

Mark Davison and Glen Taylor (Sunderland RCA), Wayne Philips, Daniel Groves, David Knight and Neil Hooks, Blyth Spartans, Andrew Richardson (Durham City) and Michael Rae (West Auckland Town) are all set to be involved at some stage.

FA Carlsberg Vase winners Dunston UTS open with a visit from Armthorpe Welfare with Stephen Goddard and Stephen Gibson back from holiday.

Dale Burrell, Lee McAndrew and Danny Craggs also come into contention as do James Magowan, signed from Billingham Synthonia.

West Auckland Town, who lost to Dunston UTS in the Wembley final travel to Liversedge with Chris Carr, Jamie Poole, Craig Hubbard and Andrew Rundle all set for their debuts.

Newly-promoted Hebburn Town have also been active on the transfer front bringing in Scott Wilson, Paul Wardle, Brad Brooking, Carl Patterson, Johnny Davis, Alan Croft, Mark Rasmussen and James Luccock before their visit to Thackerly.

Whitley Bay, always a force to be reckoned with, go to Bridlington Town minus suspended pair Callum Anderson and Craig McFarlane.

Manager Ian Chandler has signed Chris Moore, Denver Morris, Daryl Donnelly and Seb Anzeviu who will make the journey.