Hoppers’ cross-Pennine trek before home straight

James Fitzpatrick (right) returns at centre for Hoppers
James Fitzpatrick (right) returns at centre for Hoppers

Preston Grasshoppers head coach Paul Arnold will resist the temptation to give his reserves a run out this weekend when they travel to rock bottom Pocklington.

The Yorkshire outfit have endured a difficult season at North Premier level after winning promotion last year.

They are currently cut adrift at the foot of the table having won just one of their 18 league games.

By contrast Hoppers have won 17 out of 19 to go 20 points clear at the top – and are firm favourites to win the title.

Arnold had earmarked the fixture as one to rest some of his star names, but with the team not having played for two weeks and another open day due next weekend, the head coach is expected to field his strongest XV.

“Ideally this would have been a great week to give some of the second-team lads and fringe players a run-out.

“But we haven’t played for two weeks and with us not having a game next weekend, it would mean some of the regular players going a month without playing.

“So we will have as strong as side as we possibly can tomorrow.”

After this weekend, four of their last six games are at Lightfoot Green as they bid to consolidate their place at the top of the North Premier League.

That position was strengthened last Saturday when one of their main rivals, Lymm, lost a rearranged fixture at 

Hoppers have signed experienced lock Louis McGowan on loan from Caldy to cover the back five, where Ally Murray is out injured, Sam Gale, who has been banned internally by the club for four weeks awaits a disciplinary hearing and Jack Granby is involved with Lancashire Under-20s. Matt Frings and Ollie Trippier return to the back row.

James Fitzpatrick is back at centre, with Sam Stott switching to fly-half, Alex Ward to full-back and Scott Jordan to the wing.

There is another top-versus-bottom clash in North One West when St Benedict’s visit leaders Vale of Lune.

Time is running out for Fylde to salvage their place in National League One as they head for eighth-placed Birmingham Moseley.

Hoppers: Ward; Jordan, Fitzpatrick, Hurst, Crosley; Stott, Squirrell; Mabaya, Millea, Altham, Roddy, McGowan, Frings, Trippier, Lamprey. Replacements: Arnold, Madden, Roxby.

Vale: Finan; Ramwell, Owens, Higgin, Jacques; Turton, Swarbrick; Ferguson, Powers, Mawdsley, Cvijanovic, Rainford, Slater, Ayrton, Wallbank. Replacements: Pillow, Robinson, Briggs.