WHITLEY BAY manager Ian Chandler believes his side is close to its best as they prepare for their delayed FA Vase fifth round tie against Stratford at Hillheads today, writes RAY SIMPSON.

Whitley took a risk by playing a league game against Spennymoor in midweek, but they came through unscathed, and went joint top of the table with a 2-0 win.

Chandler said: “Several players were near the top of their games, and everybody is buzzing now.” Defender David Coulson and midfielder Damon Robson will both be missing because of injury as Whitley look for a place in the quarter finals for the second season running.

Marske, who went all the way down to St Ives in Cambridgeshire last weekend only for the match to be postponed less than an hour before kick off, try again tomorrow at Cambridge City’s ground after the St Ives’ pitch was deemed unfit.

The second division side’s preparations haven’t been helped by more confusion during the week, with the FA putting Cambridge City’s nearby ground on standby to play the tie in case St Ives’ pitch hasn’t recovered from waterlogging.

Marske manager Paul Burton said: “All the uncertainty has strengthened our resolve to get a good result. Many of the lads were unhappy about a wasted weekend.” The delay hasn’t helped the suspensions of midfielder Steve Cochrane and striker Craig Skelton, who will both still be missing today.

Marske have put on free transport for those fans who made the 400 mile round trip in vain last weekend.

Durham City are looking to extend their unbeaten run to 21 league games in the UniBond First Division North at home to Chorley.

City went top of the table after winning at Clitheroe, and manager Lee Collings said: “The players must maintain that sort of form, we need to keep winning before the backlog catches up with us.”

Keeper Craig Turns and striker John Toft are both still missing because of injury.

Elsewhere in the UniBond League, Whitby need the points at home to Matlock in the Premier Division, as do Newcastle Blue Star tomorrow against Woodley Sports at Kingston Park.

In the skilltrainingltd Northern League, Spennymoor’s title chances suffered another blow in midweek when they were forced to put some of their players on the transfer list following the arrival of an unexpected £5,000 bill.

Keeper Keith Finch and top scorer Jamie Clarke are amongst those who are on the list as the club attempts to cut costs, and might not play today against Penrith. Steve Larkin and Richie Ward both return to the side after injury.

Consett, the Northern League leaders but only on goal difference, are looking for their first win of 2009 at West Auckland, but they are missing several players. Striker Steve Johnson, defenders Carl Piecha and David Johnson, plus midfielder Andy Cuthbertson are all missing, while striker Adam Emson is doubtful.

West, who gave themselves a big lift with a win against Seaham in midweek, hope that keeper Dane Whittlestone can return, because Gareth Young, who helped out in midweek, is playing for his usual club Coundon. However, midfielder Martin Houlahan is missing because of injury, but there could be two new Czech signings, Marek and Lukas Linhart.

Dunston are at Ryton while bottom club Bishop Auckland are away at Chester-le-Street.

Bishops include new full back Joe Grant, while four more players return after missing the midweek defeat at Bedlington - Steve Salvin, Paul Moss, Lee Foster and Peter Jefferies.

Chester are without midfielder Damien Maw because of injury.

Tow Law, who have more than half of their fixtures still to play, face third-placed West Allotment at Ironworks Road. Defender Richard Langthorne and striker Lee Hamilton are both suspended, but midfielder Scott Nicholson will probably return.

Shildon are at South Shields, and they will give fitness test to five players, including key midfielder Stuart Niven.

Billingham Town, who haven’t won in six games, are at home to Ashington, and welcome back midfielder Shaun Clarke and defender Andy Burton.

Second-bottom Seaham Red Star are without two of their regulars, Ross Gardner and Josh De Silva, because they are playing for England Colleges in Italy. Opponents Billingham Synthonia recall several players who missed the defeat at Newcastle Benfield.

Northallerton, who are third bottom, go to Newcastle Benfield, and are boosted by the return from long-term injury of defender Jason Newall.

In the second division, leaders Esh Winning face Birtley at Waterhouses.

Norton, who are second, are at home to Team Northumbria, and are without their regular keeper James Briggs because of suspension, so Jamie Lawrence is expected to replace him.

Horden, who are third, take on Jarrow and Horden boss Simon Corbett is hoping to make a new signing before the game, but he will be missing injured midfielder Steve Thomas.

Crook, who are in sixth place eight points behind the top three, welcome back striker Dan Olusoga to their squad at home to Washington, but Graeme McTaggart will have a fitness test.

Darlington RA, who have lost their last three, need to get back to winning ways at Brandon, and they will be missing striker Paul Freary because of suspension.

Guisborough are missing their top scorer David Onions because of suspension when they go to Whickham.

Bottom club Thornaby are boosted by the returns of Steve Hodgson and Paul Vickers to their side at home to Sunderland RCA, while they have also signed striker Anthony Abel from Northallerton. Defender Sean Joseph is missing for the RCA who are unbeaten in their last four, but Andy Reay returns.

North Shields are at second bottom Prudhoe, while Stokesley go over the A66 to Whitehaven, and manager Ted Watts could make changes after losing to Crook in midweek.