Spalding RFC v Ilkeston RFC (Saturday, 3pm): AFTER 25 games and eight months of action, Spalding’s Midlands One East future has come down to one massive match at the Memorial Field.
Only a maximum return of five points against play-off chasing Ilkeston will guarantee Town safety on Saturday, with four teams separated by three points vying to stay up.
Coalville, Leighton Buzzard, Nuneaton Old Edwardians and Spalding all harbour hopes of survival – and there’s a set of circumstances that can see each of them safe.
But only one of them will avoid the drop, with Town skipper Harry Sharman admitting five years of hard work would effectively go down the pan if they were to be relegated.
He said: “It’s a massive, massive day for this club. We put in so much hard work getting into this league, then another two years trying to stay here.
“It’s going to take a huge effort from everybody associated with the club to beat Ilkeston and it’ll be a nervy day.
“But we’ve got to forget about what is happening elsewhere an concentrate on ourselves. Obviously the situation isn’t ideal, but we’re better off than the other three sides.
“This league is where we want to be and relegation would be tough to take if I’m honest.
“Hopefully the fans, who have been great all season, will come down and get behind us in force again.”
The dramatic climax to the campaign sees basement boys Nuneaton host fifth-placed Matlock, while Coalville welcome mid-table Bedford Athletic and Leighton Buzzard visit fourth-placed Kettering.
While their rivals’ opponents have nothing to play for, Town’s visitors Ilkeston can still finish second and clinch a coveted play-off spot.
And with four points awarded for a win and an extra bonus point added for scoring four tries in a match, Spalding will need to deliver one of their top performances in recent years to take all of the other scenarios out of the equation.
“Anything could happened,” admitted Sharman. “On paper, we have probably the toughest match.
“After going to Paviors and winning last week, Leighton Buzzard will fancy themselves at Kettering, who probably have nothing to play for.
“Coalville are much like ourselves and can beat anyone at home, while Nuneaton have had a great run and are capable of anything.
“It just shows the strength of this league really, which is why we want to stay here.”
Spalding’s chances are boosted by the return of the influential Dave Hankinson, while Craig Dowse could make the starting line-up after making his return as a substitute at Loughborough last weekend. Richie Craig and Josh McNally are still missing, though.
Ilkeston couldn’t arrive at the Memorial Field in better form. They have won their last eight league games, last tasting defeat way back on January 21.
Ironically, the sides last met on the opening day of the season, with Town beaten 29-15 in Derbyshire.