DARLINGTON Mowden Park will almost certainly need maximum points from their remaining four games after their promotion hopes were dented by a 13-5 defeat at Stourbridge on Saturday.
Top spot in National Two North is not beyond them, but the likelihood is that they will go into the final match at home to leaders Macclesfield on April 26 needing to beat them and pick up the four-try bonus.
The bonus point shouldn't be a problem at home to Otley this week, but then comes a tough trip to Luctonians followed by the game in hand away to Sheffield Tigers, who are battling against relegation.
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Also fighting to avoid the drop are Hull and Mowden will hope that works in their favour when Stourbridge visit Humberside this week, while leaders Macclesfield still have to go to Preston.
The fact that Mowden have the best points difference of the top three could yet come into it, and preventing Stourbridge from scoring four tries could also prove crucial.
In fact, Mowden's heroic defence meant the hosts needed three penalties to clinch victory in an intense battle after going ahead through a pushover try in the sixth minute.
It was 8-0 at half-time and Mowden had hopes of victory when scrum half Zylon McGaffin forced his way over in the corner in the 55th minute.
But they conceded two penalties in the next ten minutes as the powerful home pack held sway in front of a crowd of almost 1,000.
Mowden gambled on the fitness of Talite Vaioleti in the second row, but he stayed off after being yellow-carded in the 48th minute. That didn't influence the result as a home lock quickly followed him to the bin.
Prop Josh Bayford lasted only 23 minutes before being replaced by Henry Sandys, and the lack of props remains a concern for Mowden.
Blaydon moved up to fifth in National One when two tries by No 8 Jason Smithson helped them to a 22-16 home win against Blackheath, who had climbed out of danger with a seven-game unbeaten run.
Smithson's first put Blaydon ahead and they were also awarded a penalty try, but they were well below par and conceded two tries though charged-down kicks to trail 16-12 with ten minutes left.
Smithson finished a catch-and-drive to regain the lead and after adding his second conversion Andrew Baggett also landed a late penalty.
The intense scrap at the bottom means Tynedale are still not clear of danger, despite winning 45-21 away to relegated Hull Ionians.
They are six points ahead of third-bottom Cinderford, who have two games in hand and visit Corbridge this week.
Tynedale trailed 21-14 at Hull with 25 minutes left, but when a home player was sin-binned they capitalised with three quick tries, two of them for flanker Daniel Temm.
Centre Ben Frankland scored his 18th of the season to stand only one behind the division's leading try scorer, Doncaster's ex-Blaydon centre Matt Clark.
There was also a brace for winger Hamish Smales among Tynedale's seven tries.
Westoe are all but safe in National Three North after picking up two bonus points from a gallant fightback at home to Huddersfield.
The champions-elect led 34-17 at half-time but had to hang on for a 37-31 win after winger Andrew Lawson began the response with his second try just after the break. Jamie Clark, Sam Gaff and Shaun Richardson also touched down for Westoe. Matt Mellish clinched the losing bonus point by converting the last try from the touchline.
Peter Evans kicks a conversion for Billingham
There was a big kick in the teeth for Middlesbrough in North One East when they lost 26-7 at Driffield and the bottom two pulled off shock away wins.
Sheffield, who were miles adrift at the turn of the year, continued their great escape with a 29-19 win at second-placed Huddersfield YMCA.
As they are only two points behind Boro and finish with two home games, it probably means Boro need to win both their's to survive. They are at home to champions Cleckheaton this week then finish off at Alnwick.
Cleckheaton won 45-0 on Saturday at home to Morpeth, who are now bottom after Malton and Norton won 22-19 at Rochdale.
West Hartlepool look certain to finish third after Stu Waites kicked a late penalty to clinch a 13-10 win at home to Pocklington. The fly half scored all the points, capitalising on a mistake in the visitors'
midfield just before the break to score a try.
The only team who could overhaul them are Guisborough, who won 50-3 at home to Gosforth but face a tough match on Saturday at Consett, which will, in fact, be played at Tynedale with Belle Vue out of action because of clubhouse work.
Consett's 29-24 win at Durham City was their ninth victory in succession and ended City's chances of the play-off spot.
Darlington won 35-10 at home to Hartlepool Rovers and can still nip into second place if Guisborough slip up. They have two away games left, at Stockton and Gateshead.
Stockton still need a point to be sure of survival after losing 39-14 at Ponteland, where they conceded five tries while down to 14 men through yellow cards. Brian Thwaites and Phil Douglas scored Stockton's tries, both converted by Jeremy Good.