Macclesfield staying focused as race for promotion gathers pace

Macclesfield have a comfortable lead at the top and look set for an immediate return to National One
©Nick Jones

National Two North has a full fixture list this Saturday after the reserve weekend last week and for Macclesfield, they can take one step closer to promotion as they enter the final stretch of the season.

They currently top the table by 18 points and are in pole position for a place in National One next term while Sedgley Park will be doing all they can to respond to Macc’s lead and their own defeat to Caldy last week which hampered their title chances.

Stourbridge, Leicester Lions and even Caldy need to keep on winning if they are to stand any chance of a play-off place as a series of bad results would end their hopes once and for all.

‘Hope’ is a word that has changed to ‘reality’ for the Luctonians in recent weeks as their fine form as guided them to 14th in the table and they are now just a point from safety. With that in mind, some of the teams above them including South Leicester and Sale FC maybe looking over their shoulder worryingly so they know at this stage of the campaign, points and results are a must if they are to avoid relegation.

Macclesfield v Harrogate

Macclesfield are certainly looking like the frontrunners for the National Two North title. The Blues were relegated from National One last season and after 18 wins from their 21 matches this season; they are leading the way in the fourth tier of English rugby and head into this weekend 18 points clear at the top.

Giles Heagerty’s men were made to work hard for their win over Broadstreet last Saturday (which was one of their games in hand), but that victory was their fifth in a row and their 10th at home this campaign. The triumph was made even sweeter when second placed Sedgley Park lost ground in the title race so Macc will be looking to maintain their advantage at the summit this weekend.

Harrogate are currently going through their best spell of form this season. After an inconsistent campaign up until February, ‘Gate currently sit sixth in the table after four straight wins. A play-off place now looks beyond the Yorkshire side, but they will be pleased to be back to winnings ways.

They had finished fourth last season so promotion was actually a realistic goal for the men from Ruddling Lane, but that lack of consistency has really let Harrogate down in their attempts at a National One shot. Still, they make the trip to Cheshire in a buoyant mood as they aim to be only the second team to beat Macclesfield on their own patch this term.

Stourbridge v Sedgley Park

Stourbridge are back towards the top of the table in National Two North this season. They struggled last campaign due to a huge number of injuries, but with a stronger squad this term, the Midlands side look back to their best as they currently sit third in the table.

In fact, a win in this fixture against Sedgley Park will move Stour ahead of the Manchester based-club into the play-off place, but they have still played three more games than Sedge this season. With that in mind, they definitely need to win this game if they’re to keep their play-off chance alive.

It isn’t a surprise to see Sedgley Park challenging for promotion once again this term. After a third placed finish last season, Sedge have pushed on this campaign and are in a good position to secure a play-off spot as they sit second in the table and they do have games in hand over the sides around them.

But, a play-off place isn’t top of the agenda for Sedge. They may well still believe they are in a title race with 10 games left to play this season, but defeat against Caldy at home last week has really dented their hopes. 18 points is a lot to claw back and with Macc still having to play two more rearranged fixtures, any more slip-ups for the Tigers could end their title dreams altogether. 

Sale FC v Leicester Lions

Sale FC’s season has been one of mixed fortunes. Their home form has been impressive, but it has been their away results which have let them down. So, it is no surprise to see them sitting in 12th place at this stage – just three points clear of the relegation zone.

However, Sale’s recent form has seen them win two of their last three games with both coming at Heywood Road. In fact out of Sale’s eight wins this season, seven of them have come up at home which isn’t a bad thing at all for a newly promoted side. They will be looking for more joy in front of their own supporters this weekend as they look to move away from the bottom three.

Leicester Lions have taken National Two North by surprise this season. The Lions were still in danger of being relegated to the fifth tier of English rugby on the final day of last season, but this year, they find themselves in the mix for promotion thanks to some superb displays.

Some may have felt Leicester wouldn’t be able to keep up their good form, but they have shown throughout the course of this campaign that they can maintain their stay in the top half. The reason for that is mainly down to their home form. 11 of their 15 wins this season have come at Westleigh Park, but two victories from their last three away matches is certainly an improvement for the Lions and they will want to continue that in Manchester on Saturday.

Caldy v Sandal

Caldy are in a mixed run of form in National Two North at the moment. Although the Wirral side have been hovering around the play-off place for the majority of the campaign, just four wins from eight matches in 2016 has seen them fall away from the top two.

That said, a win last weekend against second place Sedgley Park leaves Caldy just six points behind that particular promotion spot, but Sedge have played three less games than Caldy this term. They are currently fifth in the table and know they must keep on churning out victories if they are to mount a serious play-off challenge between now and the end of April.

Sandal have slowly fallen away this campaign after such an impressive beginning to life in National Two North. Although the Yorkshire outfit won nine of their first 14 matches after promotion via the National Three North play-off, they have slid down the table and now find themselves in the bottom half.

A run of one win in eight matches has seen Sandal drop to ninth in the league and now they are only eight points clear of the relegation zone so the men from Milnethorpe Green maybe starting to get slightly worried. They will be hoping to put a stop to this decline as they go in search of their fourth away win of the season this weekend

Broadstreet v Otley

Broadstreet are well and truly embroiled in a relegation battle in National Two North this season. ‘Street finished in an excellent seventh place last year after promotion from National Three Midlands, but with seven games remaining of their campaign this time around, they sit 15th in the table and four points from safety.

Having finished so strongly last term, there is still a feeling that Broadstreet can get out of trouble and that is still very doable. Two wins from their last four games have been encouraging and if they were to pick up their sixth home victory of the campaign this weekend, they may well find themselves out of the bottom three come Saturday evening.

Otley are certainly replicating their solid campaign from last term in National Two North this year, although as things stand, the men from Cross Green are on course for finishing two places higher than last season.

Four wins from their last five games for Otley ahead of this away match with Broadstreet has certainly tightened their grip on seventh place in the table and put an end to what had been a patchy run of form for the Yorkshire based-club. A 13th victory of the season this weekend will only strengthen their chances of finishing in the top half this term.

Preston Grasshoppers v Luctonians

Preston Grasshoppers remain in the top half of National Two North. As things stand, the Hoppers are eighth in the table after a run of just two defeats in their last nine games and more importantly for them, they are 11 points clear of the drop zone, which they avoided on the final day of last season.

Garth Dew’s men do have the capabilities of beating any team in the division on their day, as shown by their win against third placed Stourbridge at the back end of January, but they will want to taste that winning feeling once again this weekend after two straight defeats.

The Luctonians have lifted themselves to the cusp of safety with some fine form over their last 10 games. The Lucts have picked up seven wins over that period and after looking stranded in the bottom three, they are now a point away from jumping out of the relegation places.

Due to this run of results, the Lucts are in a great position as they have games in hand on the teams around them meaning they can control their own fate. Lightfoot Green won’t be an easy venue for the Herefordshire side to continue this purple patch of form, but they will keen to do so as they are on the verge of moving out of the drop zone.

Chester v Huddersfield

Chester’s season has been fairly disappointing. Having finished fifth last year after an altogether strong term, you wouldn’t blame the men from Hare Lane for turning their attentions to next season as their current National Two North campaign has been below par so far.

Despite picking up back to back wins over Broadstreet and South Leicester to begin 2016, Chester still sit down in 10th place after winning just one of their last five games. Home form has also been an issue for Chester this season as they have won just three times in front of their own supporters, but a fixture against the divisions’ bottom club on Saturday could be the perfect catalyst they need to end the season strongly.

Huddersfield have endured a tough season and look set for National Three rugby next season. The Yorkshire club are now 14 points away from safety having lost 17 games this season and they’re slowly being cast adrift at the bottom of the National Two North table.

A home defeat to Sedgley Park two weeks ago means Huddersfield have played all 23 of their allotted games so far which adds an extra pinch of salt to rub into their wounds considering the teams around them still have games in hand. A victory in Cheshire this weekend would be a welcome relief for ‘Field who are not dead and buried just yet, but if they were to lose this fixture, it could spell the end of their time in National Two.

South Leicester v Tynedale

The story of Tynedale over the last 11 months has been one for the club to forget on and off the pitch. Having been relegated for the first time in the club’s history last season, Tyne now find themselves just five points clear of the relegation zone in National Two North.

After coming down from National One, they were unsurprisingly tipped for a promotion push, but it hasn’t turned out like that. Added to this, Tynedale’s clubhouse and pitches were ruined by the floods that hit the country at the end of last year meaning they have relocated to Kingston Park. Their attention is fully on staying in National Two North though and an away win here for Scott Lawson’s men would end a run of three straight defeats.

South Leicester are in desperate need of a win on Saturday afternoon. Defeats to Harrogate and Stourbridge over the last two weeks leaves South one place and one point above the relegation zone in a battle for survival which keeps on intensifying.

Having beaten relegation rivals Broadstreet in the middle of February, that was the boost the side from Welford Road needed but now they to dust themselves off again and prepare for a tough last stretch of the season to avoid going back down to National Midlands Three after just one season in the fourth tier of English rugby.

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