South Shields are ready for a vital Easter weekend double-header as the season reaches an exciting climax.
The second-placed Mariners travel to Stafford Rangers on Saturday before a potentially pivotal home clash with Scarborough Athletic on Monday.
With just one more league match to follow those two games, Shields currently sit three points behind leaders Farsley Celtic.
Joint manager Lee Picton says there is no margin for error following last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Basford United, which ended a run of six straight victories.
He said: “The Bank Holiday weekend usually throws up some interesting results, because there are two games in three days.
“We’ve just got to hope that we’re not one of those interesting results and that we get what we should be looking for on paper.
“That’s no disrespect to the two teams we’re going to be playing against, but we’ve got to be aiming for six points from the two games.
“That has to be our goal over the Bank Holiday weekend, otherwise we could go into the last game with absolutely nothing to play for.
“That’s our over-riding focus.”
With two games in three days coming up, Picton admits he and fellow joint manager Graham Fenton may have to mix things up over the weekend.
He added: “We’re going to have to utilise the squad.
“We’ve got strength in depth and there were some players disappointed last week not to be in the team or the squad in some cases.
“We’re going to have to utilise our strength in depth over the course of the weekend.”
Shields are expecting a difficult encounter against Stafford, who beat them 3-1 in the FA Trophy last season.
The Mariners won the reverse fixture 3-0 in August but Stafford have been much-improved since then, and will be eyeing a win which would make them all but safe from relegation.
Over recent weeks, they have beaten third-placed Warrington Town and drawn against the same opponents, so Picton knows how challenging Saturday’s match could be.
He said: “We’ve got bad memories of Stafford from last season.
“They’re a team that’s been in form recently and have been much-improved over the last few weeks.
“It will be a very, very tough game and we’re going to have to adapt again.
“I imagine the surface is going to be like the one we encountered at Workington recently, and what we need is a similar type of performance.
“We showed a really different side to us on that night and will have to do that again.”
Shields are expected to be without Barrie Smith and Carl Finnigan, although both have returned to training following their long-term injuries.
Kick-off at Marston Road – which has a post code of ST16 3BX – is at 3pm.
South Shields travel to 16th-placed Stafford Rangers on Saturday in their penultimate away league fixture of the 2018-19 campaign.
Here, we take a look at how Rangers have fared so far this season.
The Mariners will be in for another tough test when they travel to relegation-threatened Stafford.
The hosts sit just four points above the relegation zone, having collected 40 points from their 37 games.
More than half of those 40 points have come at their Marston Road home, where Boro have collected 23 of their total points this term.
Rangers have a record of five wins and eight draws from their 18 games played at home this season, which includes a 1-1 draw against Warrington Town in March.
Stafford were unable to take points off Shields’ title rivals Farsley Celtic, however, as the league leaders dispatched Rangers by three goals to one.
The Mariners have made the 392-mile round-trip to Stafford once before, for an FA Trophy tie in November 2017.
Despite Robert Briggs handing Shields an early lead, Massiah McDonald bagged a hat-trick to put the Mariners’ cup run to an end and confined them to defeat.
The only league meeting between the two clubs came way back in August when the Mariners bounced back from a 4-1 defeat to Farsley Celtic.
Gavin Cogdon, Robert Briggs and Carl Finnigan were on target that day as Shields coasted past Boro in a comfortable win.
Rangers currently lie 13th in the form guide over the last six games after taking a total of eight points. Shields, meanwhile sit in second, taking 16 points from six games.
Boro will come into the fixture with confidence on the back of their away victory over Whitby Town, winning by two goals to one to boost their survival hopes.
Saturday afternoon sees South Shields travel to Stafford United in their penultimate away league fixture of the season.
Here, we take a closer look at the recent history of the West Midlands-based club.
The first reference of a football club in Stafford was made in the Staffordshire advertiser in 1876. In 1896, the club moved into their current Marston Road home.
In 1974-75, Rangers defeated Stockport, Halifax and Rotherham on their way to the fourth round of the FA Cup before going out to Peterborough in front of 31,160 supporters at Stoke’s Victoria Ground.
2002-03 saw Stafford finish as runners-up in the Southern Premier League as well as reach the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in a decade.
The next season, Rangers finished third and were promoted into the newly-formed Conference North.
In 2005-06, they won promotion to the Conference Premier thanks to a play-off victory over Droylsden.
Their stay at that level lasted just two years though, before they were relegated back down to the Conference North.
Despite appointing the likes of Steve Bull, Tim Flowers and Matt Elliot the club couldn’t improve their fortunes and they were relegated to the Northern Premier League in 2011-12.
Then in 2015-16 Boro won the Evo-Stik First Division South title, with the club turning a corner both on and off the pitch.
The following season, the club consolidated their position in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, finishing 13th in their first season back, improving on the last season by finishing in 12th position.
The end of the season saw the departure of manager Neil Kitching and most of the playing staff due to the geographical problems caused by the FA’s re-structuring of the non-league pyramid.
Former Stafford striker Steve Burr returned to be club as manager in the summer of 2018 to rebuild the the squad and take the club forward.
He resigned in December 2018, with Alex Meechan and Andy Fearn now in joint charge of the team.