The stakes have been raised by the FA as the Northern League season enters the last two months of the season.

The FA has confirmed to the Northern League that three clubs will be promoted from the league’s first division at the end of the season to the new Step 4 league that is being created, which is a big incentive for third placed Shildon and league leaders Stockton Town, as well as Guisborough, Newton Aycliffe and West Auckland, who are also chasing promotion.

The FA has also said that only one club will be relegated from the first division to the second, and that might depend as well on the points per game ratio compared to the 13 other bottom clubs at Step 5 around the country.

There will also be four clubs promoted from the second division to the first, which gives clubs all the way down to ninth place in the second division a big incentive to keep battling all the way to the end of the season.

There will also be three vacancies for clubs in the Wearside League, Northern Alliance and North Riding League to go for – as long as their grounds are up to standard. The Northern League’s bottom two will be “liable for relegation”.

Shildon are therefore aiming to hold on to their present promotion place by winning at sixth bottom Seaham Red Star, with new striker Michael Sweet, signed on loan from Blyth, in their side.

Sweet links up with his old Consett teammates Danny Craggs and Jordan Lavery, and manager Danny Moore said; “Hopefully, Michael will score a few goals to get us over the line. He will give us options up front, with Billy Greulich-Smith, Dean Thexton and Zak Atkinson up there.

“If we can win our next three or four games, then we can put more pressure on the other teams.”

Midfielder Chay Liddle is missing today, but Joe Posthill returns.

Stockton Town are in pole position to go up as champions anyway, and they have a big away game at fourth placed Consett.

They have lost just once away from home this season, and they include skipper Adam Nicholson, who missed the midweek cup defeat at Spennymoor.

Manager Micky Dunwell said; “We go to Consett full of confidence and looking to extend our winning run in the league. We will be looking for three points again to keep our cushion at the top.”

Consett have a big date next Saturday in mind, away to Atherstone in the quarter finals of the Vase.

Newton Aycliffe could go joint fourth depending on results if they win at Whitley Bay, and they are hoping that striker Adam Burnicle will pass a late fitness test, but recent signings Ryan Coles and Aidan McGee will make their debuts. Mattie Lowrie and Liam McNamara have both gone to Australia.

Manager Colin Stromsoy said; “We were all so disappointed not to get a win or at least a draw against North Shields so we’re really looking forward to the game. Whitley Bay at home will be a tough game for sure but we know we have the ability to go there and get three points.”

West Auckland, who are in ninth place, are at home to Sunderland RCA and need the three points to stay in sight of the leading group.

Manager Gary Forrest said; “We need to bounce back after last week’s Vase defeat and a test of character for the lads.”

Defenders Chris Hunter and Marc Ellison are both missing.

Guisborough, who are sixth, are at home to Newcastle Benfield. They will give new signing Jamie Davis from Billingham Town and Jack Bailey from Thornaby their debuts, and manager Gary Forster said; “We have a lot of cup finals ahead to finish in as high a league position as possible.”

Bishop Auckland are at home to third bottom Northallerton.

Bishops add striker Chris Winn and midfielder Kyle Morris to their squad, but Jamie Marshall is unavailable.

Manager Ian Chandler said; “We will once again be looking to youth and an opportunity for them to impress and stake a claim for next season’s squad.

“Northallerton have signed some experienced players recently so as always another tricky game is expected. “ Northallerton have recently signed Micky Rae and Nathan Skidmore.

Thornaby, who are bottom, have a big away game at Penrith, and they will give defender Mattie Robinson, signed from Billingham Town, his debut.

In the second division, second placed Crook Town have a big home game against sixth in the table Billingham Synthonia.

Crook manager Jamie Tunstall said; “I'm expecting a really tough game, Billingham Synthonia are probably the form side in the division along with ourselves and Carlisle so it makes for a great spectacle. I've asked my players questions every week and they keep on delivering so confidence is high amongst the group at the moment. Make no mistake though that Synners will come wanting to win the game and we'll have to do everything we can to take the points.”

Tom Gavin and Daniel Kent will both have fitness tests, but are expected to be fit. Synners welcome Steve Black back into their squad, and manager Dave Dickson said; “It’s a must win game for us to keep the pressure on the other teams.”

Redcar Athletic, in third, are at home to Jarrow, and are missing Lee Bythway, otherwise they’re at full strength. Manager Steve Connolly said; “They’ll be very well organised and tough to break down. I expect a tough, close game.”

Tow Law, who are eighth, can give their top four hopes a boost if they can come away with a good result from fourth placed Ryton and Crawcrook, and they will give a late fitness test to Evann Graham. Manager Micky Vasey said; “It will be a very tough game against them.”

Second bottom Brandon head to Carlisle City, and they will be without Sean Tarling who is unavailable. Joint manager Anth Lee said; “The game will be tough as they are flying at the moment.”

Bottom club Durham City have a big home game against Esh Winning, and they include new signing Tehvan Tyrrell, a Bermudan who had a pre-season trial at Darlington.

Esh are boosted by the return of Scott Arnott after a knee operation, but Glenn Donaldson is unavailable, Manager Tony Boakes said; “We’re hopeful of getting some much-needed away points after struggling away from home recently.”

Willington go to Heaton Stannington, and will be missing defender Kyle Wren because of suspension.

Manager Ibby Hassan said; “It will be a case of which team has been able to work on things given another extended period without a game. The postponements haven’t been ideal, but we’ve managed to have some good quality training in the interim.”

Chester-le-Street are at home to Newcastle University, and wanting to bounce back from the 7-0 defeat by West Allotment a fortnight ago.

Andrew Clarkson and Callum Greaves are both out injured, otherwise they will be at full strength.

Manager Colin Wake said; “We are looking for revenge against the students who thoroughly beat us earlier in the season at their place. But after both sides conceded a lot of goals last time out, we shouldn’t expect a goal fest. A clean sheet would do me fine as a building block for the last dozen games.”