We are closing in on the final third of the season and now more than ever, it feels like it is the ideal time for teams to begin generating some momentum. (Photo Credit: Paul Clark)

National One

Cindeford would have undoubtedly enjoyed their dramatic late victory against Darlington Mowden Park last week, but their thoughts may have turned towards the next task in hand relatively quickly. A timely win in Round 15 meant Paul Morris’ troops pushed themselves five points clear of the relegation places and they have the chance to build on that this weekend when they travel to bottom-of-the-table Sale FC.

With league leaders Chinnor to come next Saturday, this feels like a great opportunity for Cinderford to move further away from danger but their hosts will be looking for an immediate reaction. Having been in the game for a decent portion of their clash against the aforementioned Chinnor last week, ‘The Dogs’ faded away in the final quarter and ended up being on the wrong end of a 47-10 scoreline.

But similarly to their opposition on Saturday, this also feels like a pivotal fixture in Sale’s battle for survival as they currently sit five points from safety. Four of their five victories this season have come at Heywood Road and despite defeat on their own patch last time out, an instant response could be significant in their fight against the drop.

Like Sale, fellow bottom three compatriots – Taunton – will be eager to start climbing away from the trapdoor. In Round 15, they were involved in yet another tight encounter that didn’t fall their way and this weekend, they face another side who know all about narrow losses with Birmingham Moseley (6th) the visitors to Veritas Park.

Sadly, there is only one other game that will go ahead in the third tier with Darlington Mowden Park v Blackheath, Leicester Lions v Plymouth Albion, Bishop’s Stortford v Richmond and Chinnor v Sedgley Park all postponed due to frozen pitches.

That sole fixture is Rams’ (2nd) trip to Rosslyn Park (4th) and with Chinnor not in action, Seb Reynolds’ side could move to the summit with a victory.

National Two North

We head towards the bottom of National Two North for this week’s preview where both Otley and Preston Grasshoppers will want to give their respective campaigns a shot in the arm.

As things stand, Otley are six points clear of the bottom two with Hoppers a point better off, but victories have been hard to come by over the last couple of months. If you combine the last five matches both clubs have played, there is only one win between them with Otley picking up a 39-34 success over Hull Ionians in Round 13.

That stat alone explains why these two teams find themselves floating above the danger zone, but what is notable is how important the next couple of weeks are for both sides. After this Saturday’s meeting at Cross Green, Otley face Billingham (12th) and then host bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield in their game in hand on February 3rd while for Preston, they entertain Hull Ionians – who are currently in the relegation places – in Round 17.

With all of this in mind, defeat for either club this weekend would still leave them nervously peering over their shoulders whereas a much-needed victory could provide the spark they most likely crave.

Below Otley and Preston are three sides we have already mentioned. Let’s start with Billingham who sit just outside the bottom two by virtue of having won more games than Hull Ionians, but it is a position the North-East outfit will want to improve upon. They enter this weekend without a victory in eight and face the tricky assignment of travelling to a Sheffield (3rd) side who are on a seven-match winning streak.

As for Hull Ioniains, they will be looking for their first success since the middle of October when they take on Sheffield Tigers while Huddersfield – who are nine points from safety – welcome title-chasing Rotherham Titans (2nd) to Lockwood Park.

In terms of Rotherham, they remain six points behind table-toppers Leeds Tykes who will be aiming for a stunning 16th straight win when they visit Hull on Saturday while an in-form Fylde (4th) – who have won six of their last seven – take on Wharfedale with Tynedale facing Lymm.

National Two East

If Barnes (4th) still harbour hopes of having a tilt at the National Two East title, perhaps this weekend’s clash against second-placed Dorking is crucial. At the start of November, Jack Heald’s charges were three points off the top after seven wins from their first eight games but some mixed form has seen them slightly fall away.

While league leaders Esher have been relentless and Dorking have kept up the pace, three wins and three defeats have dented Barnes’ momentum and now they find themselves nine points off the summit. The task for the club from the capital is to haul themselves back into the thick of the promotion race, and a win over Dorking might give them the platform to do just that.

As for Dorking, they sit six points ahead of the Green and Golds and just three behind Esher. After losing to the table-toppers just before Christmas, back-to-back bonus-point wins for Armand Roux’s men keeps them in the rear-view mirror of the leaders ahead of a test of their own title credentials this weekend.

Since promotion, the Red and Whites have beaten Barnes on all three occasions by a combined margin of seven points so will that theme continue or can Heald’s boys end up on the right side of the scoreline?

Added to this, Dorking can go top with a win as Esher’s fixture against Guernsey Raiders has been postponed due to a frozen pitch. Sevenoaks v Bury St Edmunds is also off for the same reason.

At the other end of the standings, Wimbledon – who beat Westcombe Park last time out – will be aiming to add to their survival push in Round 16 when they host Canterbury while rivals Worthing take on Westcombe Park. Elsewhere, bottom-of-the-table North Walsham entertain Henley Hawks (5th) and Tonbridge Juddians meet Old Albanian.

National Two West

If we rewind the clock back towards the end of September, a last-gasp George Castledine try clinched a 22-21 victory for Newport (Salop) over Hinckley. At the time, it marked a first triumph of the season for Newport while for Hinckley, it triggered a run of just one win from their next four matches.

However, almost four months on, both sides find themselves experiencing contrasting fortunes. Since that opening victory of the campaign, Newport have only added one more triumph to their tally with Bob Adams’ men currently bottom of the standings and 13 points from safety. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Hornets damaged their survival hopes and if this difficult patch continues, then it might be irreparable for the Shropshire outfit.

In terms of Hinckley, since the blip which followed that loss to Newport, they are unbeaten in eight games and Chris Campbell’s troops occupy third spot in the table. They are 10 points behind league leaders Luctonians and with a very intriguing clash against second-placed Dings Crusaders to come next weekend, the Midlands club will want to extend their excellent form by avenging their defeat against Newport from earlier in the season.

As mentioned, Luctonians are out in front in National Two West and after responding to back-to-back defeats against Redruth last week, Ryan Watkins’ side host Bournville in Round 16 while Dings Crusaders (2nd) – who are unbeaten in 10 games – travel to Hornets.

Elsewhere in the top six,  Clifton (4th) go to Redruth and Camborne (5th) visit Chester but Exeter University’s (6th) clash with Dudley Kingswinford has been postponed due to a frozen pitch.

Meanwhile, Old Redcliffians welcome Loughborough Students to Scotland Lane.

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