PICKERING Town manager Paul Marshall will be looking for his side to bounce back this weekend when they visit Handsworth Parramore in the Toolstation Northern Counties East League, writes Ian Appleyard.

The Pikes, who are still second in the premier division table, have gone off the rails in their last three fixtures allowing league leaders Cleethorpes Town to move two points clear with three games in hand.

With only six more games to play, their title ambitions are now all but over but the Pikes are still aiming to secure second spot which would equal the club's best ever league finish.

Results last week, however, were disappointing in the extreme with a midweek defeat against Hemsworth Miners Welfare sandwiched by draws, home and away, against bottom of the table Retford United.

If the Pikes had only maintained their impressive form and won all three games, it would have kept the pressure on Cleethorpes who have displayed increasing signs of vulnerability with 3-0 defeats against both Albion Sports and Maltby Main in the past eight days.

However, Pickering's slip-ups have allowed Cleethorpes to strengthen their grip on the top spot and it will now take an unlikely collapse by the Lincolnshire club to offer Pickering any chance of promotion.

The Pikes produced a lack-lustre performance when drawing 2-2 at home to Retford on Saturday afternoon and only salvaged a point thanks to a last minute goal by Joe Dale.

A healthy crowd of 172 had turned up in sunny conditions hoping to cheer the Pikes to victory but alarm bells were ringing after just eight minutes when a defensive blunder from skipper Niall Tilsley let in Mark Wilson whose shot was tipped over by goalkeeper Toby Wells.

Retford took the lead after 20 minutes when a poor clearance by Wells presented Cameron Dear with the opportunity to score from ten yards.

Defender Sam Denton, teenager Joe Dunnett, and winger Joe Danby all went close for the Pikes before the interval.

They applied further pressure at the start of the second half but Ryan Blott was denied by the goalkeeper and both Nick Thompson and Russell Parker had efforts blocked by defenders.

Retford doubled their lead after 63 minutes when Dear's left wing corner was headed on by Derek Ubah for Bradley Kilner to apply the final touch.

The Pikes were handed a lifeline with 13 minutes to go when referee Simon Porter ruled that substitute Ged Dalton had been fouled in the area by Reece Farnhill. Striker Blott tucked away the subsequent penalty for his 17th goal of the season.

The goal set up a thrilling finale and Dale salvaged a point three minutes into stoppage time after dribbling past two defenders and shooting beyond the reach of goalkeeper Joe Perryman.

Pikes V Retford: Wells, Parker (Dale 75), Danby, Claisse (Cooper 50), Denton, Tilsley, Thompson, Birch, Blott, Dunnett, Kamara (Dalton 65). Unused substitutes: Chipps, Taylor.

Last Tuesday, Hemsworth MW became the first team to complete a league ‘double’ over the Pikes this season thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Eddie Birch had a penalty saved when the score was still at 1-0 and Joe Danby's sending off after 39 minutes left the Pikes facing an uphill task.

Nash Connolly doubled Hemsworth's lead before Denton pulled a goal back midway through the second half.

Third-placed Bridlington Town, meanwhile, are now only three points behind the Pikes with a game in hand. They host Barton Town Old Boys on Saturday afternoon.

The Pikes' game at Handsworth on Saturday (3pm) takes place at Worksop Town's Sandy Lane ground.

Next Tuesday, April 4, the Pikes are at home to Rainworth Miners Welfare (7.45pm).