THERE will be an air of desperation rather than confidence surrounding tomorrow’s Woodhead derby between Old Brodleians and Old Crossleyans (2.15).
Neither side has managed a win for almost two months. Brods have lost their last six games and Crocs five - they were postponed at home to Northern last Saturday - since both registered narrow home successes on October 22.
Brods’ 14-0 defeat at Gateshead six days ago meant Crocs slipped to second from bottom while Brods, who were top after winning their first five games, have plummeted to ninth. Three teams are due to go down.
Crocs skipper James Wainwright believes the stakes are very high tomorrow with relegation a real worry for both clubs.
“You can take the derby element out of it - all that matters is league points and both of us are desperate for them,” said the winger.
“It’s a pretty crucial game. Even at this stage of the season it could go a long way to deciding who goes down - it’s that big a game.”
Crocs did well to beat the drop last season after a similarly poor first half and Wainwright is hoping that experience will stand his side in good stead.
“We were in a relegation scrap last year and turned it round,” he added.
Brods’ blistering start to the season included a 20-13 win at Broomfield but their long-serving back Adam Standeven, who could play at centre tomorrow, believes his side might be underdogs for the rematch in spite of their good home record in recent years.
He said: “We have not scored for two weeks and the play being turned in by the players is just not being rewarded.”
Standeven said coach Ian Armitage would be looking to make changes but his options were limited by injuries, particularly in the forwards where back rowers James Dale (broken collarbone) and Steve Shaw (groin) are the latest casualties.
Chris Hartley may step up from a second team which is unbeaten in five games while young winger Michael Briggs and centre Andy Clay are other possibles for promotion.
A further handicap for Brods is that former skipper Ollie Akroyd has been carrying an ankle injury and that has affected his goalkicking form.
Crocs expect to field a strong side and there could be surprise returns for two members of their pack.
Richard Wheale had an ankle operation not too long since and his participation had been written off until the New Year but Wainwright said the experienced hooker had been training and was close to a return.
Crocs were also hoping to include No 8 Ryan Hammond. He was at a disciplinary hearing last night following his sending off for throwing a punch in the narrow home defeat by Cleckheaton and has served a four-match club imposed ban since.
Manny Riaz, who would have missed last Saturday’s match through work, returns to the back row and James Kavanagh is fit after a back injury to partner Chris Wood at lock.
Chris Seymour, who would have played in the back row against Northern, returns to a more familiar role at fullback and with player-coach Chris Jones the only absentee in the backs after a finger operation, winger Joe Baker may have to settle for a place on the bench against his former club.
Wainwright added: “We should have a big pack of forwards on Saturday and that could be where the game is won and lost, particularly with the way conditions are.”