Christmas is here and it’s a vital time in Non-league football. Here’s the latest look to see how things are looking for the North East Clubs from Tweed to Tees.
We will start with the FA competitions and firstly the FA Trophy. The competition for Non- league footballs elite has moved into the last 32 stage and Morpeth Town reached that round for the first time ever on Saturday . Like the previous three rounds Morpeth did it the hard way with a third consecutive win on penalties. Lancaster City grabbed a late equaliser to make it 3-3 but Craik Parks penalty kings struck again.
Spennymoor also got through with a 1-0 away win at Radcliffe Borough with a Jamie Chandler goal. Moors might look at this competition as a massive chance to reach Wembley.
Though both will look to avoid the National League big lads.
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Any previous winners of the FA Vase meanwhile, emphasise the fact that if you are in after Christmas you have a chance as the competition goes country wide.
We have had numerous winners over the years and its strange to see just two sides from our region left in. A few reasons for that. A lot of teams are moving up into the FA Trophy through promotion and their seems to be a nasty habit of Northern League clubs drawing each other. We might just have two left but the two left in Consett and North Shields are both firm favourites and despite the lack of teams, its conceivable that could be the final at Wembley, if they avoid each other.
Shields scored in the 96th minute to win last week while Consett thrashed Newcastle Benfield away in what looked a tricky tie beforehand.
Consett’s fans missed out at Wembley last May and it would be pretty apt if they returned this spring. A long way to go though.
Into the National League North and Gateshead are really looking very good at the moment. Anyone who saw the FA Cup defeat to Charlton must have saw the quality the Tynesiders have and they are backing it up as they try and catch league games up. Northamptonshire side Brackley lead the way having conceded only 8 goals all season but last week they were defeated 2-0 at the International stadium and Gateshead now sit two points off top spot with crucially two games in hand. Last weekend looks even more crucial . A 3-1 deficit at Farsley turned into a 4-3 win in injury time. The habit of late goals looking very handy.
The New Year will be interesting.
Spennymoor have had an awful month or so and have slipped from pushing for promotion to being below half way. One win in 9 games since early October saw the exit of ex Sunderland man Tommy Miller. Moors have appointed Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson as management team. An interesting appointment for anyone who saw the BBC documentary on Salford City a few years back. They have won 2 from 2 but have to really kick on in 2022.
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Another managerial change at Blyth Spartans and another interesting one. Terry Mitchell has left Consett with an impeccable record to join a Croft Park side who are in second bottom and in serious relegation bother. They have twelve points only 4 more than they had in September, but the good thing is they are involved in a mini 6 team league at the bottom who are cut adrift but separated by only 6 points.
All is not lost for Mitchell, the ex United junior coach.
Darlington had a relatively quiet month until the weekend when it was shockingly announced that ex player Osagi Bascome had been stabbed to death at the age of 23 in his native Bermuda. He was pivotal in Darlo’s recent cup runs and that has devastated the club. It puts football into perspective.
Darlington currently lie in mid table but impressively beat Fylde last time out and although its been stop start for them they have only 1 defeat in 6 games.
In the Scottish Lowland League Berwick Rangers are in 8th place.
Rangers are in a mid-table group way off the leaders. They have actually found a bit of much needed consistency of late with two comfortable wins over Gretna and Broomhill, but with the lopsided look at the leagues fixtures (only 12 games remain) its hard to see any massive improvement of position.
Back to England’s pyramid and it’s as tight as ever at the top of The Northern Premier League premier Division.
South Shields lie 4th but only 5 points separate the top positions with leaders Buxton having played a game more. Shields suffered a blow last weekend with a shock home defeat to Hyde and they are in patchy form, especially at home with one win from 6 overall. With Buxton’s FA Cup run over they look now the team to beat .
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Morpeth’s FA Trophy run has stalled the league season a bit, but after finally making Craig Lynch permanent manager, they have just lost three games since he took temporary charge in September after a terrible start. Morpeth are just below halfway now.
In the East Division, Dunston’s up and down season has hit a trough lately as they have drifted out of the play off places after a run of 4 defeats in a row after as 5 match winning run last month.
A latest home defeat to Brighouse on Saturday saw them slide to 6th. Marske have been magnificent this year and are going toe to toe with leaders Liversedge.
Both have an incredible 46 points with the Yorkshire side ahead on goal difference with a game in hand. Any other season Shildon might be top as they have an impressive 41 points after being promoted.
They lie third.
Hebburn lost twice to Stockton in a week last week but recovered to beat Frickley away at the weekend. Its not been plain sailing for Hebburn who are in mid table.
Stockton themselves move above Dunston after a good run lately , they are dark horses.
In the Northern League Division 1 it looks like Consett’s league to lose as they end their year with an 8 point advantage at the top.
Losing Terry Mitchell was a blow but they have been the most consistent team so far and look well set. Fellow Vase botherers North Shields might have a say yet though. If they win their three games in hand they would be a point behind Consett. Shields have won 5 of the last 6 .
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What a season its been so far for Ryhope CW. They were tipped to struggle but after an impressive away win at Aycliffe 4-1 they finish their year in second place. An incredible achievement.
West Auckland topped the league in early November and looked real title challengers but have since lost 4 out of 5 and look out of the title picture now having played a game more than Consett and 11 points behind.
Below Consett the top 6 are actually only separated by 6 points but Thornaby, Aycliffe and Ashington all have lacked the consistency to challenge.
Ashington’s stop start winter has saw 5-1 and 4-0 defeats and a 6-1 win. Whickham have improved under new manager Tony Fawcett but its been a tale of woe for Whitley Bay . They lost 8-0 and 6-1 in a few days last week followed up by a defeat to Northallerton which lifted them off the bottom. Penrith lie bottom but only goal difference separates them ‘Allerton and Bishop Auckland, Billingham Town also in the group trying to avoid the drop. Benfield need league wins now after a Vase defeat left them firmly in mid table.
In Division 2 Heaton Stannington look well set for promotion . They have an 8 point lead at the top with a game in hand , having not lost since August. Ryton have had a decent run lately to grab the second place but Easington will recapture that if they win any of their three games in hand. 11 points though , separate Ryton to 11th placed Carlisle City.
Tow Law won their last 6 but its still grim and winless for Durham City , who are rock bottom with a point. A minus 116 goal difference jaw dropping after 23 games.
In the Alliance Premier Division. Killingworth have incredibly won 17 from 17 this season. Despite being 2 down to Alnwick they roared back to win 4-2 last time out to go 13 points clear of second placed Blue Star. Burradon and New Fordley and Prudhoe YC complete the top 4. Cramlington, Stobswood Welfare and Walker Central lead the other three leagues at Christmas.
In the Northumberland Senior cup Newcastle under 23s eventually saw off Ashington who came from 2 down only to lose on penalties after the 2-2 draw. Over 1,300 were there to see it and nice to see Newcastle giving the colliers their share of the gate , something Sunderland didn’t do after the Durham Challenge cup game at Crook. They lost.
On that note all that’s left is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy new year.