Hoppers aiming to halt their slide

Back in action: Ally Murray will return to Hoppers' starting XV against Chester tomorrow
Back in action: Ally Murray will return to Hoppers' starting XV against Chester tomorrow
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The first mission of the New Year for Preston Grasshoppers and Vale of Lune is to halt the mid-season slide which has seen them lose their last four and three games respectively.

That run of four defeats made it a miserable end to the autumn for Hoppers, although three of them were away from home.

But it also included only their second defeat at Lightfoot Green in seven games this season.

With eight victories out of 16 in all, they have now slipped to seventh in National League Two North as they prepare to welcome fifth-placed Chester.

Back-row forward Andy Napier will be sidelined for some time with a dislocated ankle and fibula injury, but Hoppers hope centre Phil Baines and lock Ally Murray will be able to resume in the starting line-up.

The club was delighted that John Powell’s Boxing Day testimonial – in which some 70 players of various vintages took part – raised £1,000 for charity.

Two of Vale’s three pre-Christmas defeats in North One West were away from home – although one of them, against Widnes, looks likely to have to be replayed.

When the game went to uncontested scrums after Widnes ran out of front-row forwards, they should have been forced to play with 14 men under a law introduced last season.

But the referee allowed them to continue with 15. Subject to appeal, the fixture could be played again on January 18.

Vale hit the road again tomorrow to Carlisle, whom they defeated 55-24 at Powderhouse Lane back in September.

They also did the double over the Cumbrians last season, winning 21-12 away and 36-15 at home.

Forward Fraser Spavin is now working abroad, but Vale are able to add centre David Haigh and lock Harry Fellows to the squad which took on Widnes.

Two of the worst defences in North One West clash when Kendal (402 conceded) visit Warrington (413 conceded).

That is despite the fact that the clubs lie seventh and fifth.

Kendal, three points behind Warrington, have a game in hand.

After four successive victories, Fylde have moved up to fourth in National One – 10 points behind the leaders – as they prepare to welcome 13th-placed Blackheath.

Fylde have won their last five home games and in fact have lost just once in seven outings at Ansdell.

Blackheath stopped the rot just before Christmas, a narrow home victory over Worthing coming after a run of five defeats and one draw.

They have won just two out of eight on the road – losing their last five in a row - and have five victories, a draw and 10 defeats in total.

Fylde won 31-29 at Blackheath in September and did the double last season.

Lock and former skipper Roger Banks has retired after recently topping 200 first-team appearances for Fylde. Joe Robinson moves up to the second row, with Steve McGinnis available again for a back-row berth. Mark Rylance is this week’s starting hooker.

Hoppers: Taylor; Birchall, Baines, Ward, Elliott; Allen, Kindred; Mustafa, Holmes, McGuiness, Murray, Wallbank, Lees, Webster, Moon.

Vale (from): Royle, Mcluskie, Higgin, Haigh, Carter, Curran, J Turton, Dobson; Hesketh, Berry, A Cowey, McLaren-Dorrington, Pillow, Tudor, Fellows, Clarkson, Baines, Charnley.

Fylde: Viney; Spragg, C Briers, S Briers, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Birchall, Rylance, Lewis, Arnold, Robinson, Vernon, McGinnis, Stewart.