PICKERING Town manager Paul Marshall has paid tribute to champions Cleethorpes Town ahead of the final round of fixtures in Toolstation Northern Counties East League, writes Ian Appleyard.

The Pikes, who have finished runners-up, were Cleethorpe's biggest rivals for the premier division title but are now resigned to another season in the ninth tier of English football.

"If I am honest, I am very jealous as a manager of what Cleethorpes have achieved," said Marshall. "They have had a truly amazing season and I would love to be in their position."

Formed less than 20 years ago, Cleethorpes, who are managed by Marcus Newell, have won three promotions in five years and risen from the Lincolnshire League to the Evo-Stik League First Division North.

On Tuesday night, they won 3-2 at Garforth Town to move 11 points clear at the top of the table with one game to go.

Marshall said: "The majority of that team has been together for the last four or five years. They also have good volunteers, good sponsors, a good wage structure, and a good chairman. So, when you put all that together, you can see why they have won the league!"

Knowing the importance of continuity, Marshall is now keeping his fingers crossed that Pickering's squad will not break up over the summer.

"If we want to go one better next season, it is very important to keep this squad together," he said. "But it is difficult at this level. If you don't have the budget to keep everyone together, other teams come calling, and you can't stop lads moving if they want to go somewhere else for a few more quid a week."

The Pikes visit AFC Mansfield for their final league game of the season on Saturday afternoon (3pm) while Cleethorpes visit Armthorpe Welfare.

The Pikes still have one additional game to play after this weekend - the North Riding Senior Cup final against Whitby Town at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium on Monday May 15 (7.30pm)

Goals from Ryan Blott and George Bissett, meanwhile, secured a 2-1 victory for the Pikes in their final home game against Athersley Recreation last weekend.

The game attracted 141 supporters which was slightly below this season's average of 149 which is a 21 per cent rise from last season,

Blott put the Pikes ahead after just four minutes when finishing a left wing cross from Joe Danby.

Russ Parker might have doubled the lead on the half hour but his shot hit the post.

Athersley equalised in the 45th minute when Tom Almond linked up with Ryan White before setting up Kieran Scargill who scored with a 10 yard drive.

Referee Nick Hawksby (York) produced several yellow cards in the second half as tempers started to flare.

Goalkeeper Toby Wells made an excellent save to deny Hancock before Bissett restored Pickering's advantage with a close range header in the 72nd minute.

Scargill was sent off for Athersley in the final minute after committing a second bookable offence.

After the game, the Pikes were presented with their runners-up medals by League Secretary Brian Gould.

End-of-season awards were also presented to Toby Wells (Supporters' Player of the Year and Manager’s Player of the Year) and captain Niall Tilsley (Players’ Player of the Year).

Midfielder Ryan Cooper (knee) remains sidelined this weekend and may also struggle to be fit for the Whitby game.

Pikes V Athersley Recreation: Wells, Parker (Dalton 57), Danby, Chipps, Denton (Dunnett 61), Tilsley, Thompson, Birch, Blott, Taylor (Kamara 69), Bissett. Unused substitutes: Robinson, Ingram.