WITH the season just past the halfway mark for most sides, the race for the championship at this stage is between Darlington 1883 and Spennymoor Town – but it’s a different scenario at the other end of the table.
Several teams are fighting to avoid the drop and none more so than Newcastle Benfield, whose slippery slide towards the relegation zone continued,
They are now fourth from bottom after they failed to defend two set pieces which were exploited by Glen Taylor and Andrew Johnson to earn Ashington all three points.
Bottom-of-the-table South Shields are 13 points adrift of Benfield and already have a mountain to climb.
Despite twice leading through Barry Marshall, with a first-minute strike, and Chris Feasey, they succumbed to rival strugglers Penrith, whose match-winners were Steven Rigg, Martin Coleman and Scott Allison. Norton and Stockton Ancients are second bottom and will be disappointed at losing a two-goal lead at Team Northumbria.
Stuart Bath and Dale Mulligan had them on course for an upset, but Team hit back for a point with a late equaliser from Ben Sayer after Peter Watling had cut the deficit.
Billingham Town had taken four points from their two previous games and had hopes of climbing further away from the danger zone when they lined up with Durham City.
Despite scoring first courtesy of Harrison Davies, though, they were overwhelmed with a six-goal blast from Max Stoker, Paul Dixon, Conor Winter, Craig Ellison, Peter Glen-Ravenhill and Ian Ward.
Newton Aycliffe eased their relegation fears when goals by Martin Young and Danny Earl earned them vital points at the expense of Sunderland RCA. At the top, Spennymoor Town reduced Darlington 1883’s lead to six points and they still have four games in hand on the Quakers.
It was a close call for Jason Ainsley’s side at Billingham Synthonia, however, and an only goal from Gavin Cogden was all that separated the teams.
West Auckland Town, who defeated Marske United with strikes from Mattie Moffat John Campbell, stay third and Whitley Bay are fourth after they blitzed Hebburn Town.
The Seahorses ran the show in front of a bumper crowd of 402 at Hillheads and the goals flowed from James Novak (2), Ash Davis, Lee Kerr and James Fairley.
A 78th-minute strike by Kris Gate looked as if it might earn fifth-placed Bedlington Terriers maximum points but there was still time for Dunston UTS’s Andrew Bulford to square the result. In Division Two, there was a treble boost to Crook Town’s title aspirations.
Not only did they see off a strong challenge from Morpeth Town but their two nearest challengers faltered.
Craig Hughes, Kyle Davis and Robbie Bird fired Crook into a three-goal interval lead and they were coasting, but when they had Ian Maddison sent off on 73 minutes the game changed.
Michael Chilton converted the resultant penalty and in the 90th minute Lee Scott also netted, but Morpeth failed to produce an equaliser. It was only their second defeat of the season.
Second-placed Ryhope CW conceded a two-goal lead at North Shields. A brace from John Butler had them in the driving seat but after Robert Nolan reduced the arrears, James Harmison levelled late on.
Third-top Seaham Red Star’s winning sequence was surprisingly halted by lowly Thornaby. West Allotment Celtic are now mid-table after crushing relegation-threatened Horden CW with strikes from Liam Hudson (2), Dean Lee, David Dormand and Mark Dummett.
Dane Wilson and Michael Cain responded for the Colliers, who remain second bottom ahead of Alnwick Town.
A Tony Thirkell penalty was all that Whickham could muster at home to Whitehaven, who enjoyed a four-goal romp thanks to Kevin Connelly (2), Mathew Tymon and John Roseby.
Three players were red-carded in Chester-le-Street’s victory at Ryton and Crawcrook Albion.
Lewis Lynch and Craig Mickle had given the Cestrians the lead before Ryton’s Brian Dodsworth and Chester’s Michael Graver were sent off at the same time.
The Cestrians’ Gary Turton was then dismissed.