“WE can’t afford another loss to our rivals.”

So said Pickering Town manager Paul Marshall ahead of his side’s Northern Counties East League premier table-top clash with Pontefract Collieries tomorrow.

The Pikes are still fourth in the division, but the 3-2 home defeat to fellow promotion challengers Maltby Main saw them miss out on the opportunity to leapfrog third-placed Ponte while also putting clear daylight between the top four and the rest of the division.

With the trio now effectively joint-third in the table, Saturday represents a real six-pointer and a big opportunity for Town to reinstate themselves as promotion contenders, especially with the Colls having four games in hand.

Marshall said: “It is a big game that we need to win to maintain our title aspirations. We can’t afford another loss to our rivals.

“We just need to make sure we prepare right and play well. We had too many players underperforming against Maltby Main.”

Although Pickering’s injury troubles are lightening, they will still have a few players absent for the upcoming clash, including the “huge blow” of being without leading marksman Ryan Blott, who is serving a suspension for an alleged headbutt against Liversedge which earned him a straight red card.

Town, though, have received a boost up front with the return from America of frontman Kioki Hutchings - who was signed last year, but has only recently received international clearance to play - though he will not feature in tomorrow’s squad as he did not train midweek.

Other absentees tomorrow will be Nick Thompson, who continues to recover from a hernia, and Russ Parker, who has a thigh strain.

At the other end of the table, Harrogate Railway Athletic will welcome fellow strugglers Thackley, who have lost their last two games 2-0. The Rail opened the year with a welcome 4-2 win at Athersley Recreation.

Division one play-off chasers Selby Town, meanwhile, will play host to eighth-placed Hallam, who put FC Bolsover to the sword in midweek with a 5-1 win. Only four points separate the two teams now.

The two sides last met in late August, when Joe Dale netted a brace to earn Christian Fox’s men a draw in South Yorkshire.

This will be the Robins’ first game in almost a month, after seeing last weekend’s fixture at Retford United postponed because of a waterlogged pitch. It has been rearranged for Tuesday, March 6.

Knaresborough Town reclaimed their perch at the top of the table, having taken full advantage of their home clash against title rivals Grimsby Borough with a 5-0 win.

On Saturday, Boro travel to Worsborough Bridge Athletic who sit 18th and have earned only seven points from their last nine games. From tomorrow to the end of the season, the Briggers will play only four of their 19 games away from home.

National League North title hopefuls Harrogate Town travel to south division counterparts St Albans City in the Buildbase FA Trophy second round.

Town stayed second in their division, despite tasting a 2-1 defeat at Nuneaton Town in midweek, while eighth-placed Saints were 2-1 home winners over Chelmsford City last time out.