Hoppers facing fight for survival

Preston Grasshoppers took on Wigan RUFC in a commemorative First World War tribute match held at Douglas Bank, Wigan.
Preston Grasshoppers took on Wigan RUFC in a commemorative First World War tribute match held at Douglas Bank, Wigan.
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It is a “full-house” Family Fun Day at Lightfoot Green tomorrow and Preston Grasshoppers will be hoping the fun applies just as much to events on the first-team pitch as off it.

But, with Just two weeks to go in National League Two North, the permutations surrounding relegation could hardly be more complicated.

Dominic Moon returns for Hoppers after his battle for fitness

Dominic Moon returns for Hoppers after his battle for fitness

Stockport are already down, but the two to join them will come from no fewer than five clubs – Hull (49 points), Birmingham/Solihull (51), Luctonians (52), Hoppers (55) and even 11th-placed Leicester Lions (58).

But the mathematics are complicated by the fact that Hull visit Birmingham tomorrow, then host Hoppers on the final day of the campaign.

The worst-case scenario for Preston is that they need to win both their remaining games, starting with the visit of Caldy tomorrow.

But with Hull and the “Bees” in a position to take points off each other this weekend, the situation may be a little clearer before the final round of games – provided Hoppers beat Caldy, of course.

That is by no means a given, as the visitors are third in the table after winning 16, drawing one and losing 11 across the season. But hope for the Lightfoot Green faithful lies in Caldy’s away record – just four wins and a draw from 14 fixtures.

The irony is that Hoppers@current 55 points tally is already 11 more than was needed to finish outside the drop zone at the end of last season, showing how much more competitive this campaign has been.

The Preston line-up is subject to a couple of late fitness checks, but shows two changes from last weekend’s starters – John O’Donnell coming back on the wing and Will Lees in the back row. Sam Kindred and Harry Reddick are back among the replacements.

It’s the last day of the season in North One West and most issues are already decided. Birkenhead Park are champions, Kirkby Lonsdale are certain to finish second (and earn a play-off place) and Kendal will remain third, whatever they achieve at Birkenhead tomorrow.

Vale of Lune are currently seventh, but could move up one or down two depending on the results tomorrow, when they make the short trip to Kirkby Lonsdale.

Ron Lamberton returns at full-back for the visitors and James Birchall is back on the wing. Billy Swarbrick, a replacement last Saturday, is out of the squad with a hamstring injury.

Thanks to a puzzling quirk of the computer, Fylde end their National League One campaign with two trips to London – Blackheath next Saturday and Richmond tomorrow.vNeither game will affect promotion and relegation.

Hooker Jack Wilkinson, who has played half a dozen games for Hoppers first team this season, has been named in the England Counties Under-20s squad for a two-match tour of Hungary in June.

Hoppers: M Murray; Jordan, Russell, Woof, O’Donnell; Allen, Moulding; Madden, Mills, Altham, Tomlinson, A Murray, Moon, Lees, Taylor. Replacements: Kindred, Tuff, Morton, Banks, Reddick.

Vale: Lamberton; Birchall, Bird, Carter, Crookall; Owens, Lomas; McLaren-Dorrington, D Baines, Pillow, Charnley, A Baines, Wallbank, Powers, Dorrington. Replacements: McIntosh, Garnett, Richards.

Fylde: Spragg; Dorrington, S Rawlings, Briers, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Lavelle, Burtonwood, Lewis, Gore, Robinson, Goodman, Maher, G Rawlings. Replacements: Birchall, Loney, Arnold, Stewart, Nicholls.