Bishop Auckland manager Ian Chandler is relishing today’s game against Newcastle Benfield as the race for the Northern League title intensifies.

After a break from league action last Saturday, Bishops go into the game in third place in the table, just two points behind leaders Consett having played the same number of games, and a point behind Dunston UTS having played two games more.

And Bishops’ title hopes are rising because Consett have dropped five points in their last two matches, and Dunston have also dropped points since the turn of the year.

“This is a must-win game again, just like they all have been recently, but we’re all looking forward to it,” he said.

“Benfield are always a hard team to play against and they’ve been on a very good run of results until the last two games. With the top of the league very tight, it’s a must-win game again.”

However, Darren Richardson and Callum Munro are both suspended, while Jamie Marshall will have a fitness test.

West Auckland go to Sunderland RCA, whom they beat in the FA Vase a fortnight ago courtesy of an extra time goal.

They still have several players out injured for the game, and manager Gary Forrest said; “We want to stay in the promotion race, so three points are a must.”

West are currently seventh in the table, while RCA have slipped in recent weeks down to tenth.

Newton Aycliffe, who parted company with manager Deano Browne last weekend, can do Bishops a favour if they can take points off Dunston UTS at Moore Lane.

Chairman Allan Oliver and previous boss Danny Mellanby will be in charge of the team, and they will be hoping that keeper James Winter passes a late fitness test, but striker Shaun Hudson and defender Dan Mitton are both out injured. Oliver is hoping to make at least one new signing.

Aycliffe have only won two of their home league games this season.

Shildon are looking for their sixth win out of the last seven games at home to Seaham Red Star.

Player-manager Danny Moore is out because of suspension, but Marc Ellison returns after a ban. New signing Zak Atkinson, who scored one of the gaols in the 2-0 win at Consett in midweek, continues up front.

“Zak has given us an extra dimension up front, he’s very keen to play,” said Moore.

In the second division, Northallerton keep up their pursuit of a top two place when they go to West Allotment, and manager Darren Trotter could make changes to the team that lost at home to Chester-le-Street last week.

Northallerton will be hoping for some sort of favour from Brandon, who go to second in the table Thornaby looking for points to help them get out of the bottom two. Jordan Lee and Kieran Anderson are both out injured, and skipper Craig Hindmarch is doubtful with a knee injury. They could also sign a new striker before the game.

Chester-le-Street, who are fourth, are at home to bottom club Durham City.

Craig Marron, Michael Graver, Owen Henderson, Kevin Dixon and Dominic Laws are all missing, while Joe Grant and Owen Lancaster both return.

Manager Colin Wake said; “Durham are fighting for their lives at the bottom so we will have to be mentally prepared to get the better of them, but we will not underestimate the challenge they present.”

Durham are 16 points adrift of third bottom Washington with just seven points to their credit, and manager Billy Harper said; “It’s a tough game, and with the injury list not improving, we go into the game without our strongest team.”

Willington, who are unbeaten in their last five league matches and are seven points behind the top four, are at home to Jarrow.

Lewis Milner is unavailable, and manager Rob Lee said; “Jarrow are a good team having a good season, and we mustn’t underestimate them.”

Tow Law are looking for revenge for their early season defeat when Bedlington visit Ironworks Road.

Matty Soulsby, Steven Aiston, Jamie Lee Hayman, Matty Pennal and Josh Scott all return to the squad after being ineligible for the league cup tie in midweek, while Nathan Convery also returns. Dan Curry will be missing with a shoulder injury.

Crook Town, who are seventh from bottom, face Ryton and Crawcrook at the Millfield and they have an injury doubt over Callum Johnston.

Manager Jamie Tunstall said; “Ryton always pose a tough test but our win last week has brought some confidence to the lads and their mood has been good. We were unfortunate not to pick up three points at Ryton earlier in the season.”

Esh Winning, who are fourth from bottom, go to league leaders Billingham Town who are unbeaten in 25 league games so far, and they will have several players missing, but they include new signing Glenn Donaldson from Durham City.

The draw for the quarter finals of Mitre Brooks Mileson Northern League Cup is: Chester-le-Street v Newcastle Benfield, Newton Aycliffe v Whitley Bay, West Auckland v Tow Law, Stockton Town v Consett.

The draw for the semi finals of the Ernest Armstrong Trophy is: Northallerton v Thornaby, Chester-le-Street v Willington.