Sale FC out to delay Caldy’s promotion party

Sale FC will be aiming to stop Caldy in their tracks this weekend
©Derek Sailsbury

Caldy can be crowned champions of National Two North this weekend with a win over second placed Sale FC, but the visitors to Paton Field will have other ideas.

Jonathan Keep’s side will be aiming to become the first team to beat Caldy since the opening day of the season this Saturday and if they achieve that feat, they can ignite the title race and delay Caldy’s automatic promotion to National One.

Away from this top of the table clash, there is an equally important game at the bottom of this division as Harrogate and Preston Grasshoppers clash. Harrogate know a win would be huge step towards survival for them while Hoppers know a victory may not be enough to keep them in National Two North.

Garth Dew’s men must better the result of fellow relegation rivals Sheffield Tigers to stand any chance of avoiding the drop this weekend. The Yorkshire side have hit top form at just the right time in the season as they come into their fixture against Tynedale tomorrow having won their last three games. Also in the fight for survival are Scunthorpe who are only two points adrift of safety as they host fourth placed Sedgley Park this weekend.

Elsewhere in National Two North, Leicester Lions travel to Otley and Wharfedale go in search of their first away win of the season against Chester while Hinckley host Stourbridge and South Leicester welcome Luctonians to Welford Road.

Caldy v Sale FC

The league title can be decided this weekend in National Two North. Any sort of win for Caldy in this top two clash against Sale FC will clinch them automatic promotion to National One and based on the form the Wirral side are in, silverware could be sealed at Paton Field tomorrow.

Simon Verbickas’ men come into this clash with second placed Sale, 10 points clear of their closest rivals and Caldy are also on a 26 match unbeaten run. Added to that, the league leaders have won their last 19 games and they have done everything right in their quest for the championship. Caldy have one more assignment to overcome tomorrow and if they pass their latest test with flying colours, the title race will be over.

Hoping to become the first side to beat Caldy since the opening day of the season are Sale FC. 31 weeks ago, Sedgley Park beat the Cheshire outfit and now Sale will be aiming to clinch victory over their title rivals to keep their ambitions of possible automatic promotion alive.

Sale head to Paton Fields this weekend currently on a run of 13 straight wins which has helped them secure a play-off spot at the very least this season. It has been a wonderful campaign for Jonathan Keep’s side considering they were fighting off relegation this time last year and they now know that a win this Saturday does continue this title race for another week. However, Sale will be fully aware of the challenge as they aim to become the first team to inflict a home defeat on Caldy this term.

Otley v Leicester Lions

It is highly unlikely that Otley will be dragged into a relegation battle with just three games of the season remaining, but this weekend, they can officially secure their status in National Two North for yet another campaign. It hasn’t been the season many at Cross Green would’ve been expecting as Otley have failed to move out of the bottom-half of the table for the majority of the term.

As things stand, the Yorkshire side sit 12th in the table and host Leicester Lions this weekend having lost their last five league matches. Their home form this year has been key to why Otley haven’t been embroiled in a relegation fight and a 10th victory from 14 matches at Cross Green this season will mathematically seal Otley’s place at this level for the 2017/18 campaign.

Leicester Lions moved back into third place last Saturday after a comfortable win over relegation threatened Preston Grasshoppers and now Andy Key and his side will have their eyes set on surpassing their achievements of last season. The Midlands side finish in the bronze medal position 12 months ago having accumulated 89 points and as things stand, the Lions are on the same amount of points with three games left of this current campaign.

It is more than likely that Leicester will move past 89 points before the season comes to an end and that will be the perfect send off for Key who is moving to Rotherham Titans next year. For now, all attention is on this fixture at Otley and the Lions can further cement their third spot in the table if they secure their first away win since the end of January.

Scunthorpe v Sedgley Park

After a hard-fought and vital victory over Wharfedale two weeks ago, Scunthorpe were unfortunate not to build on that win in Round 27 as they slipped to a defeat against South Leicester. In truth, the Greens were well in the contest with 10 minutes to go, but they conceded three late tries which tarnished what had been another positive performance.

Despite that loss, their situation hasn’t changed. Scunthorpe remain just two points off safety as they welcome Sedgley Park to Heslam Park tomorrow and with this being their final home game of the campaign, they will be looking to make it count. After this weekend, Scunthorpe go to Luctonians and Chester but their focus has to be on picking up a seventh home victory this Saturday. Can they make it back to back home triumphs to potentially move out of the bottom three?

There is no way that Scunthorpe can be relegated this weekend, but Sedgley Park could be the side that moves them closer to the trapdoor. Sedge take the trip to Lincolnshire tomorrow in fourth place and they will be aiming to bounce back from consecutive defeats against Sale FC and Wharfedale.

Dean Schofield’s side played out a tight affair in Yorkshire six days ago so they will be hoping for a much more settled afternoon this weekend. After tomorrow, Sedge take on Chester and league leaders Caldy so this fixture with Scunthorpe could be vital if they have ambitions of finishing in the top three. Sedge have won just five times away from Park Lane this term so they’ll be looking to improve on that record tomorrow.

Chester v Wharfedale

Chester’s last four defeats all have something in common; they have all been against sides in the current top seven. Chester’s challenge for the promotion spots in the division has been hampered by results against sides around them, but the men from Hare Lane may not care about that record as long as they are towards the right end of the table.

As things stand, the Cheshire side are in the mix for a top four finish despite two defeats in their last three matches. Chester are just four points behind Sedgley Park and come into this fixture with Wharfedale having won their last three home games. With Sedge to come next weekend, victory this Saturday could be vital for Chester as they aim for their highest finish since promotion into this league four years ago.

Wharfedale made it eight straight home wins in a row last weekend to all but secure their status in National Two North. Their remarkable record at the Avenue continued in Round 27 as they edged out Sedgley Park to move up to 10th in the division and 15 points clear of the relegation places.

After such a tough season, James Doherty’s side now know that one point from their visit to Chester this weekend will be enough to officially confirm their place at this level for another campaign. Dale, who were relegated from National One last year, know the challenge that faces them this weekend as they have failed to win away from home all season but they maiden victory on their travels could be their most celebrated result of the term.

Hinckley v Stourbridge

Hinckley will just be enjoying these final three games of the season. Chris Campbell and his coaching staff have achieved what they set out to do and the Midlands side will once again be playing in National Two North next season after a wonderful campaign this year.

The men from Leicester Road were promoted via the National Three North play-off 12 months ago and they currently find themselves sitting comfortably in ninth place. They host Stourbridge this weekend aiming to bounce back after a defeat to Sheffield Tigers last Saturday and successive home wins would be the perfect response.

Despite a torrid couple of months, Stourbridge can actually still finish third in this division. From the conclusion of January up until the middle of March, Neil Mitchell’s men lost six games on the trot which ended their hopes of a top two finish and the Midlands side also slid down the table.

However, back to back wins against Preston Grasshoppers and Otley means that Stour are back up into sixth place and only eight points behind Leicester Lions. It is an outside bet that the men from Stourton Park can achieve a top three finish, but it isn’t out of the question. Stour have won just five times on the road this season, but a sixth victory on their travels would certainly continue their positive end to the campaign.

Tynedale v Sheffield Tigers

Sheffield Tigers’ roar is certainly being heard by their relegation rivals. Just over a month ago, it was all doom and gloom for the Yorkshire side having won just five of their 24 matches played and an immediate relegation back down to National Three North looked on the cards.

However, three straight wins has rejuvenated the men from Dore Moor and as we enter the final weeks of this season, Sheffield find themselves just a point off safety. It has been a remarkable turnaround for the Tigers who travel to the north-east this weekend to face Tynedale and if they were to get a positive result this Saturday, they could find themselves out of the relegation zone heading into the Easter break.

Take nothing away from Sheffield Tigers’ recent victories over Preston Grasshoppers, Otley and Hinckley but this fixture with Tynedale will be their toughest yet in their quest for safety. Tyne suffered a surprising away defeat against Luctonians last weekend, but they have still won five of their last six matches which isn’t a record to dismiss.

Scott Lawson’s men have certainly enjoyed their rugby since the turn of the year and they currently sit seventh in the table knowing just a point from this home fixture against a resurgent Sheffield Tigers side would secure them a top half finish. Having being relegated from National One in 2015, Tyne are slowly building their way back up and based on the way they are finishing this season, expect them to improve once again next term.

South Leicester v Luctonians

Three late tries against Scunthorpe helped South Leicester secure their fourth win in their last five games and another victory this Saturday against Luctonians will be enough to secure South’s place in the top eight of this division.

That achievement would underline a successful campaign for South this year. 12 months ago, they were on the brink of relegation from National Two North, but now the Midlands side have taken the next step forwards and have cemented their place at this level.  With three games to go, South’s final wish for this season will be to finish in the top half and a fourth consecutive home win will do just that.

Luctonians are almost there. Victory over Tynedale in Round 27 means that Alex Davidson’s men are just one point away from officially securing their safety in this division for another year and there may well be a few sighs of relief at Mortimer Park after what has been a very tough season for the Lucts.

Injuries have certainly held Luctonians back and after such a positive start to the campaign, they tumbled down the table. However, three wins from their last four games as helped the Herefordshire outfit move away from trouble and a fourth away victory of the season would allow Luctonians to enjoy their final two fixtures of the campaign.

Harrogate v Preston Grasshoppers

Relegation battles at any time of the season are huge, but with just three games to go, this particular clash between two sides fighting for their lives takes on extra significance. Harrogate welcome Preston Grasshoppers to Rudding Lane tomorrow and the stakes couldn’t be higher for both teams.

Hosts Harrogate currently sit two points above the relegation places and have been dragged back into the relegation dogfight after a recent downturn in form. During January and February, Gate won four of their five matches, but they head into this crunch match having lost their last five games. Obviously, this is the worst time for Harrogate to be suffering a dip in results but a victory over Preston this weekend would see the Yorkshire side take a huge step towards safety.

Safety seems a long way off for Preston Grasshoppers, but they can still keep their faint hopes of surviving the drop alive this weekend. The equation is simple for Preston; they must better Sheffield Tigers’ result against Tynedale to avoid being relegated this weekend, but all Hoppers will be thinking about is claiming victory in Harrogate.

The divisions’ bottom club are still 11 points off safety and even their second away win of the season this Saturday may not be enough to save them. I labelled last week that it was the last chance saloon for the men from Lightfoot Green, but in truth, this really is Preston’s final opportunity to avoid relegation to National Three.

National League 2 North 2017/18 - Points Table