PICKERING Town manager Paul Marshall has told his players not to give up on the chase for promotion to the Northern Premier League, writes Ian Appleyard.

The Pikes blew a golden opportunity to go top of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League premier division last weekend when losing 4-1 at leaders Cleethorpes Town.

Things unravelled in spectacular style when Cleethorpes scored four times in the space of 14 second half minutes.

Although Ryan Cooper pulled a goal back for the Pikes after Cleethorpes were reduced to ten men by the dismissal of Brody Robertson, it was too little, too late.

The result has given Cleethorpes a five point lead over the Pikes who remain in second spot. Significantly, they also have a game in hand.

Marshall is aware that his side are now underdogs to win the title but will not allow his players to think the race is over.

He has also bolstered his side this week with the capture of former Scarborough, Guiseley, North Ferriby and Handsworth Parramore defender Sam Denton from Harrogate Railway Athletic.

"It was disappointing to lose the game because of 15 minutes of madness," said Marshall. "But overall, I am still very proud of my players and we won't be giving up the fight."

The Pikes had been without the services of six key players - Ryan Blott, Nick Thompson, Nathan Kamara, Russ Parker, Denny Ingram, and Ged Dalton - which, according to Marshall, was a 'massive blow' going into the game.

Defender Alex Robinson also had to be replaced by teenager Joe Dunnett after vomiting on the pitch during the build-up to Cleethorpes' opening goal.

Cleethorpes, of course, could still be distracted by the FA Vase after becoming the first NCEL side in five years to reach the last four of the competition.

They are just one step away from a first ever trip to Wembley and play Midland League division one club Bromsgrove Sporting this month in a two-legged semi-final.

In terms of the league programme, Cleethorpes still have 13 games to play and the Pikes have a dozen. There are sure to be a few twists and turns along the way.

The Pikes will be aiming to bounce back from last weekend's setback when they visit Maltby Main on Saturday afternoon, (kick-off 3pm).

However, the South Yorkshire side have won their last three home games and have a joint manager in local businessman Spencer Fearn who previously owned a Scottish League club (East Stirling), served as vice-chairman at Stockport County, and made a failed bid to invest in Sheffield Wednesday!

Cleethorpes, meanwhile, are away at mid-table Bottesford Town.

The Pikes had looked solid for 45 minutes against Cleethorpes last weekend and forced a succession of corners without breaking the deadlock.

Cleethorpes gradually found their feet but were limited to few opportunities before the interval by a well-organised Pikes' defence.

Things changed dramatically after the break and Jonathan Oglesby put Cleethorpes ahead in the 46th minute.

Liam Davis doubled the home side's lead just a few minutes later and things got even worse for the Pikes when Robertson added a third in the 52nd minute.

The collapse was still not over and Robertson made it 4-0 on the hour mark to leave the Pikes' totally shell-shocked.

Robertson's afternoon ended in shame when as he was shown a red card for kicking Dunnett - which means he is also likely to miss his club's two-legged FA Vase semi-final.

Cooper pulled a goal back for the Pikes in the 73rd minute but Cleethorpes, despite the numerical disadvantage, controlled the contest and never looked in danger of throwing away a priceless three points.

The attendance of 348 was the highest of the day in the Northern Counties East League.

Although third placed Bridlington Town beat seventh placed AFC Mansfield 1-0, they are still five points behind the Pikes.

The Pikes fixture list this month includes the visit of Bottersford Town on March 11 followed by three consecutive away trips to Albion Sports (March 15), Retford United (March 21) and Hemsworth Miners Welfare (March 25).

New signing Denton will make his debut against Maltby Main on Saturday as a replacement for captain Niall Tilsley who starts a four game ban.