Pickering Town boss Steve Brown has given up on the Northern Counties East League premier division title race but says his side need to stay focused to avoid further disappointment.

The fourth-placed Pikes lost 1-0 at Harrogate Railway on Wednesday to leave them nine points off the top with three games to play and an inferior goal difference.

"The result kills hopes of the title," said Brown. "We need snookers and with two or three games left it's not going to happen.

"But we want to finish as high as possible. It's very tight and if we're not careful we could finish sixth which would be a bit of a disappointment."

As for Wednesday, Brown said: "It probably summed up our season. We conceded a poor goal and haven't taken our chances. Some of the quality of our football deserved better."

Pickering also had Alex Wilgrass sent off for "a mild form of violent conduct" and his ban is likely to rule him out at the start of next season.

"He reacted to a challenge and put his head in a lad's face - it wasn't a head-butt but he got sent off for it," said Brown.

"Alex has been our best player all season and we're now going to miss him at the start of next season."

He added: "I was pleased with the character of the boys. Even with ten men we played a lot of good stuff."

The Pikes face Eccleshill tomorrow with Brown likely to have centre-back Pete Vasey available again and Mark Swales back from a hamstring injury. However, 18-year-old Lee Pounder, who impressed in defence on Wednesday, could keep his place.

Goole host lowly premier division boys Borrowash Victoria.

Joint-manager Jimmy Reid said he and cohort Paul Marshall had been pleased with their midweek performance at title favourites Eastwood Town that saw them draw 0-0, and that they were looking forward to the Borrowash game.

"It was a fair result," said Reid. "We made a few changes and Steve Rollinson and Marc Thompson were both back, which had a big impact."

Kevin Graham and Kevin Smith are both hoping to shake off injuries in time to make an appearance. Graham (bad leg) and Smith (ankle) missed the Eastwood exchange.

There's a derby duel at Flaxley Road for hosts Selby Town tomorrow when they entertain Harrogate Railway, who will be bidding for a second successive local triumph.

After spoiling Pickering's title dream, revived Railway now have the sliding Robins in their sights. But Selby will not want to finish their home campaign on a low.

Marc Smith will miss Harrogate Town's last game of the season at Ashton United after pulling a hamstring at Runcorn in midweek.

The big forward has had a significant impact since returning from a lengthy suspension, but will be unavailable for Town's UniBond League premier division swansong tomorrow.

Town will go into the match knowing they are guaranteed a fifth place finish whatever the outcome, and with it, a place in the inaugural Conference North set-up next term.

Manager John Reed said: "Ashton is our last game of an absolutely fantastic season that will see us finish fifth and get Conference football at the end of it. Everyone has done so well."

Elsewhere on the pitch, Michael McNaughton and Lenny Curtis will both come back into contention at the back after missing the midweek defeat.

Updated: 08:39 Friday, April 23, 2004