DARLINGTON MOWDEN PARK play their final home game of the year this afternoon, with their skipper, Jake Brady, predicting the National One title race will remain impossible to predict in the second half of the season.

Mowden have lost eight of their 14 matches this term, yet Danny Brown’s side remain in eighth position ahead of today’s meeting with Cinderford, just 18 points adrift of league leaders Old Elthamians.

Unlike in recent seasons, when the likes of Hartpury and Coventry ran away with the title, the top five teams in the current National One table are separated by just seven points.

Even the leaders have failed to win four of their 14 games, so while Mowden’s players have been frustrated at their inconsistent form, they still head into the second half of the season with plenty to play for.

“It’s not your normal season in National One to be honest,” said Brady, who joined Mowden from Harrogate in 2017. “The league is so tight and competitive, there’s not much separating the sides and everybody is capable of beating everyone else.

“There’s no runaway leaders or whipping boys this year, which has made it a really competitive season.”

Mowden looked to be finding some form when they recorded back-to-back victories at the start of November, but defeats to Ampthill, Cambridge and Caldy have stopped them in their tracks.

Last weekend’s 14-8 defeat at Caldy came with the consolation of a losing bonus point, and while it might extended their ongoing losing run, Mowden’s performance on the Wirral nevertheless represented a step in the right direction.

“We’ve had a bit of a tough run of games where the results haven’t gone our way,” said Brady. “The performance was certainly better last week, and we feel like we’ve turned a bit of a corner in training.

“Although we didn’t get the result we wanted, there were a lot of positives to take away from that. We all feel really positive after Saturday’s game and the week we’ve had in training.

“The mood in the squad is that we’re really building something and growing, and we’re all really looking forward to putting on a performance for the home fans.”

Brown has reshuffled his backs division, with Warren Seals replacing Callum Mackenze at inside centre and Chris McTurk getting the nod ahead of Shaun McCartney on the right wing.

McTurk is joined Brandon Asher-Wood and Chris Georgiou in the back three, with Matt Dudman and Garry Law continuing at half-back.

The Mowden pack remains unchanged, with Canadian Matt Heaton once again starting at number seven. He joins Dave Fisher and Joe Craggs in the back row, while Talite Vaioleti and Franco Lamanna continue at lock. An unchanged front row of Alfie Barron, Chris Wood and Ralph Appleby complete the starting 15.

Jordon Poole and Ignas Darkintis provide front row cover from the bench, while Jake Brady and Joe Duffy provide further options in the replacement forwards. Ollie Walker rounds off the match-day squad.

“For the supporters who follow us week in week out who might be a bit disappointed with our recent results, I think if you come down on Saturday you’ll see a bit of a different side to the one you’ve seen in the past few games,” added Brady.

“The boys who went down to Caldy were really motivated and passionate, and I think you’ll see an improvement this Saturday.”

The previous National One contests between today’s opponents have all gone the way of Mowden, with the sides having met four times. The first of those matches, in September 2014, resulted in Mowden’s first National One win following their promotion the previous season.