When Carlisle City were forced to dip their toes into the lake that is the Northern League, many thought it would be a struggle for them to stay afloat.

But rather than sink like a stone, they have taken to it like the proverbial duck to water.

After their reluctance to leave the North West Counties League, and their ultimate failed appeal against the move, the Sky Blues had to refer to a new road map when planning their away games this season.

But they have shone this season, and recorded recorded some very impressive results in the north east, which has seen them become real promotion contenders.

Last weekend’s trip to Jarrow epitomised the season, with City coming away with another valuable three points - something they have consistently done throughout the campaign.

Their 2-1 win was achieved courtesy of two well-taken goals by Jordan Palmer, who was close to his hat-trick on several occasions, but manager Jim Nichols stressed it was very much a team effort, taking into account the weather conditions the players had to contend with.

Gale force winds and periods of bitterly cold driving rain prevented either side playing proper football.

Instead, it was a case of rolling their sleeves up and battling both a determined opposition and the extreme weather conditions with good, old-fashioned graft.

The result was yet another vital step along the road to Division One.

City are now fifth in the table, tantalisingly one place outside the automatic promotion places, and just three points behind both Ryton & Crawcrook and Crook Town - the latter picking up a valuable win against Bedlington Terriers on Wednesday, who they demolished 5-0.

Billingham Synthonia kept in touch with Carlisle, and the promotion spots, with a 3-0 midweek defeat of Birtley Town - City’s opponents tomorrow - to stay one point behind Nichols’ side.

Despite the obvious attraction of Swindon Town’s visit to nearby Brunton Park tomorrow, there should still be a healthy turn out at Gillford Park for the game.

The well-supported Town have almost sold-out a 65-seat coach to accommodate their supporters.

Birtley sit 11th in the table on 33 points - 12 adrift of the Sky Blues - and the north east outfit appear to be treading water, looking well out of the promotion race, but safe from relegation.

They may arrive with a care-free attitude, which will make them dangerous opponents who have nothing to lose, with no pressure on them.

But one thing is certain, Nichols will need to ensure his lads are fully primed and ready to go, straight from the kick off - something he is certain to do.

In Division One, Penrith face a vital game when they travel to Northallerton, who sit second bottom of the table and four points behind them, but crucially have two games in hand.

Anything less than a win would be unthinkable tomorrow, and with Seaham Red Star - one place and two points above them - hosting bottom of the table Whickham, a defeat for Penrith could see their hopes of staying in the division diminish substantially.

Hewson’s side have only won one of their last nine games, and it is slump they simply must get out of if they are to pull off an escape from the drop.

In Scotland, Annan are also on a miserable run, which has seen them fail to pick up a single point in 2020, and slip out of the play-off spots.

Things do not get any easier for Peter Murphy’s side tomorrow, when they travel to second-placed Edinburgh City in a daunting-looking fixture.