Nail-biting finish awaiting Hoppers

Dominic Moon returns for Hoppers after his battle for fitness
Dominic Moon returns for Hoppers after his battle for fitness
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Preston Grasshoppers fans face three tense weeks as the National League Two North campaign comes to a climax.

The club still sits one win above the relegation zone.

But two of their last three fixtures are away from Lightfoot Green, with all sorts of permutations possible before what could be a cliffhanger at Hull on the last Saturday of the season.

Stockport are already relegated, but only six points separate the four clubs above them – Hull have 48, Birmingham/Solihull and Luctonians 50 and 12th-placed Hoppers 54, with 15 points up for grabs in the remaining games.

Adding to the complications are next week’s clash between Birmingham and Hull, then Preston’s trip to Humberside on April 25.

Before all that, however, Hoppers head to Huddersfield tomorrow.

Huddersfield lie 10th, nine points above Preston. But they have lost their last three games, including their last home fixture, against Sedgeley.

After losing at home to Stourbridge before Easter, Hoppers head coach Garth Dew said: “We can’t go off feeling sorry for ourselves – we just have to go out and perform. There’s still quite a lot of rugby to be played and we’ve got to get a win.

“Huddersfield are a different side to Stourbridge and will present a different challenge.”

Harrison Moulding, who has impressed off the bench recently and in the Good Friday friendly against Fylde, starts at scrum-half for Hoppers.

The only other change in the starting line-up from a fortnight ago sees Dominic Moon back in the first team – at flanker – after surgery last summer kept him out for much of the season, until recent outings for the seconds.

Vale of Lune and Warrington sit side by side in North One West – and they meet at Powderhouse Lane this weekend in the penultimate round of fixtures.

Vale coach Fergus Owens completely reshuffles his back division. He has selected himself to start at fly-half, with Ollie Carter moving to centre.

Charlie Lomas switches from centre to scrum-half, Rob Lamberton moves to full-back and wingers James Birchall and Alistair Richards return to the side, along with Ian Bird at centre.

In the pack, Alex Baines reverts to lock, Andy Powers switches to the back row and Ben Dorrington, a centre a fortnight ago, starts at No.8 this week.

Fylde’s final home game of the season in National League One brings Coventry to Ansdell, before Paul Arnold’s men make back-to-back trips to London to play to Richmond and Blackheath.

Full-back Warren Spragg, centre Chris Briers and No.8 Evan Stewart all return, with Scott Rawlings moving backl to the second row. Prop Danny Birchall, sent off on Good Friday, has been suspended for two games by the club.

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

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

Fylde: Spragg; Dorrington, S Rawlings, Briers, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Lavelle, Loney, Lewis, Gore, G Rawlings, Goodman, Vernon, Stewart. Replacements: Wild, Burtonwood, Arnold, Fairbrother, Kenyon.

Meanwhile, Hoppers are to stay at their Lightfoot Green home, where they have been based for 40 years.

Club chairman George Erdozain said: “The management committee examined the options available after conducting an extensive search for the best location combined with forensic costings for new facilities, current land prices and extensive discussions with possible developers of the site.

“With building costs escalating combined with the fact that infrastructure costs for a development would be borne by the land owner, it became apparent that proceeds from a sale of our land could be insufficient to allow us to relocate and provide excellent facilities.

“Whilst we are disappointed that there is no immediate possibility of a move to enhanced facilities we can now concentrate on improving our present ground. Our research has indicated we could scarcely have a better or more convenient location than Lightfoot Green but we continue to remain open to all options.

“We are indebted to all those who have put in so much work over the last two years particularly our professional advisers, John Chesworth of Harrison Drury, Andy Taylorson of Eckersleys and Charles Nixon of Thornber Walker, who provided their expertise on a pro-bono basis.

“Hoppers is a loyally supported and a much-loved club. We’ll continue with our focus of raising funds to improve our existing facilities so we can continue to field six senior sides, a ladies team, two colts sides and several hundred mini junior players, not forgetting our squash, archery, shooting, cricket sections and a fast-growing cycling club.”