SOUTH Shields face their biggest game of the season tomorrow when Darlington come to town.
The one-time Football League outfit – now rebranded as Darlington 1883 and forced to start again from the Northern League – are looking to work their way back up the pyramid.
Bolstered by major finances and fanbase, they sit atop the Division One table, and represent the stiffest of tests for a Shields outfit with very different priorities.
The Mariners are rock-bottom in the standings, with relegation staring them in the face after a dreadful run of form.
Manager Jon King remains positive he can pull his side away from danger, however – and has called upon the Shields townsfolk to play their part.
He said: “Darlington are guaranteed to bring a strong away following with them, and we’d love to see the people of South Shields and South Tyneside come along and match them in numbers.
“I’ve got a strong squad to pick from, bar Gilberto Chapim and Ivan Stoyanov, who have returned to their home countries for Christmas.”
The Mariners are hoping for a gate in excess of 1,000, which would provide a welcome boost to the club’s coffers and help them reinvest in the playing staff to aid the escape bid.
Elsewhere in Division One, HEBBURN TOWN play their first game in a fortnight when they host Billingham Synthonia.
Defender Jeff Forsyth is unavailable as he serves his one-match ban for being sent off against Benfield.
Dean Walker is suffering from illness and not expected to be fit, while other members of the squad have suffered from illness over the Christmas and New Year period.
Manager Paul Bennett said: “We’re all looking forward to getting a game under our belts and keep our five-game unbeaten run going.
“Billingham Synthonia are one of the best teams we’ve played this season, so we know that we have to be at our best to get something from the game.”
In Division Two, JARROW ROOFING look to keep their promotion bid on track when they host Crook Town in a top of the table clash.
Crook lead the standings, with Jarrow 13 points behind in fifth spot, having played four games fewer.
Manager Richie McLoughlin is hoping 2013 turns out to be a successful year for his side.
He said: “Our new year’s resolution is to get promoted – that would be nice.”
McLoughlin is without striker Dan Smart, who is on holiday, while Chris Hepple is injured. Michael Chapman returns to the squad, however.
n Rivals reunited ... Page 35
n Former Hebburn Town manager David Rush has been appointed assistant manager at Blue Square Premier side Gateshead.
The 41-year-old former team-mate of new Gateshead boss Anth Smith played in the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool for hometown club Sunderland.
Rush played 70 games for Sunderland and 104 games for Oxford and briefly played for York City and Hartlepool United at the end of his career.
Former Gateshead reserves team manager Paul Bryson meanwhile has returned to the club in a coaching capacity.