Although Cleadon SC are fourth from bottom in the Wearside League, manager Dougie Key reckons the side has come a long way in a short time.

He is the first to admit that pre-season preparations were poor and when the side conceded 12 goals to Birtley Town on the second Saturday of the season, Key feared the worst.

Gradually, the South Tyneside outfit have pulled themselves together and Key claims that his sights are realistically set on a mid-table position. In addition, Cleadon are through to the quarter finals of three cup competitions.

"I wouldn't say that at present it has been a rags-to-riches transformation but there is no doubt at all that we have shown considerable improvement.

"We made the worst possible start and I was fearful that players would move on following the debacle at Birtley Town but the opposite happened and not only did the lads rally round but one or two others have joined the club.

"There is a completely different atmosphere. Sometimes, I get as many as 18 for mid-week training which is a significant number considering some players have to work evenings.

"We sit down and talk about the previous match before getting into training and preparing for the next match.

"There is a much more professional attitude right down from the officials and community to the players and it is paying off," claimed Key who was secretary before taking over as manager just before the start of the season.

The manager reckons that fitness is the key to the side's improvement and that success has encouraged the players.

"Not so long ago the question of extra time would have been unthinkable but after 90 hard minutes against Wolviston last weekend.

"We scored twice in additional time when we finished strongly.

"Victory put us into the last eight of the League Cup and we are also through to the quarter finals of the Sunderland Shipowners' Cup and the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup.

"I am hoping that the form we have shown in cup matches will be transformed into the league and that our move up the table will be maintained. We were dead and buried at one stage but there is no way that we will be wooden spoonists.

"Indeed, I am looking for mid-table and perhaps win a cup. If we achieve these goals then bearing in mind the start we made, we will have had a very good season," enthused Key.

All but two clubs were involved in the League Cup last weekend and just one match in the league went ahead. It was an important fixture, though, and newcomers Barnard Castle gave themselves breathing space by defeating second-from-bottom Ferryhill Athletic.

Seven points now separate the pair with Jarrow firmly lodged at the bottom having claimed just one point in 18 attempts.

At the top, it is extremely tight with just seven points separating eight sides although Birtley Town, in particular, have a number of games in hand on leaders North Shields.

So too have other sides leaving the way open for an exciting run-in for the championship.