Not even the most ardent supporter would have forcast that Boldon CA would be in pole position at any stage of the season but the South Tyneside club currently proudly sit at top of the table.

In the early weeks of the last campaign the team was second from bottom and it is no secret that there were problems.

It was then that Norman Hunter was appointed manager. He first steered the side to safety and at the end of the season Boldon were a very respectable tenth.

"I found it hard going when things had gone so badly but there was only one way the team could go so I suppose I was in a good position," said Hunter.

"I worked with the players who were there and strengthened the squad where I could. During the last close season I was able to bring in new players and I have continued to add to the pool in recent months.

"For example, it is well known that I fancied having Lee Seff in the team but it still came as a surprise when he said he wanted to join Boldon a couple of months ago. Lee had a good scoring record with Harton and Westoe and after playing his first game for us in midfield, he has operated up front and scored in every match," enthused Hunter.

Seff's signing could not have come at a better time since Hunter had lost David Stephenson and David Haig to South Shields.

"We are always going to lose players to teams in the Albany Northern League and it is just something we have to live with."

Hunter is delighted with the form of all his newcomers and also those players who were at the club when he moved in. Although currently in pole position, the manager is realistic and would settle for a top five placing at the end of the season.

"Clubs below us, noteably Stokesley SC, Birtley Town, Wolviston and New Marske have several games in hand and it is more likely that one of them will end above

us but if we can continue our current form we will finish in a good position," added Hunter.

Darlington RA, meanwhile, are now second just two points adrift of Boldon CA and have played one fixture less. In the next three weeks the Brinkburn Road club will take a break from the League.

Tomorrow, they visit Cleadon SC in the semi-final of the Sunderland Shipowners' Cup and next Saturday host Harton and Westoe in the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup semi-final. A week later, they are at New Marske for the quarter final of the League Cup.

"The League is important but the next few weeks gives us the chance to reach a couple of cup finals and progress into the last four of another competition. We have an awful lot to play for and having won 11 and drawn one of our last 12 games, we feel we are up for the challenge," said secretary Martyn Jackson.

In contrast, North Shields' form has dipped in recent weeks and four consecutive defeats has cost them the leadership. The Robins, who have applied for entry into the Albany Northern League, need to finish in the top two to achieve their ambition. They are now fifth, two points behind Darlington RA having played one additional fixture.

Tomorrow's fixtures are:- League - Annfield Plain v Stokesley SC, Birtley Town v Windscale, Jarrow v Harton and Westoe, New Marske v Barnard Castle Glaxo, Redcar Town v Boldon CA, Ryhope CW v North Shields. Sunderland Shipowners' Cup - Wolviston v Stanley United, Cleadon SC v Darlington RA.