ASHTON United welcome local rivals Salford City to Hurst Cross on Tuesday night for a pivotal clash in the Evo-Stik Premier Division promotion race (KO 19:45 BST).
It’s fourth against third with the Robins currently five points behind Salford, who make the short 10-mile trip across Manchester having played two games more.
The sides met exactly a month ago at Moor Lane as the Ammies ran out 3-1 winners in an entertaining game in which both teams scored an own goal.
Since then, Ashton had won six in a seven-game unbeaten run before their 3-2 defeat at home to sixth-placed Stourbridge, who were 3-0 up at half-time.
Despite their stirring comeback falling short, top scorer Martin Pilkington struck his 20th goal of the season – and he is likely to be the biggest threat to Salford’s excellent defensive record of late.
The Ammies have won four of their last five matches, with their only blank a goalless draw at home to Whitby Town, since a surprise 3-1 defeat at mid-table Skelmersdale on March 12.
They have also not conceded since then as goalkeeper Jay Lynch chases a sixth successive clean sheet and 16th of the season in all competitions.
Salford will arrive full of confidence after thrashing Grantham Town 5-0 in their penultimate home match of the campaign on Saturday, in what joint-manager Bernard Morley described as “the perfect performance”.
They boast the joint-best attack in the seventh tier alongside Darlington with 87 goals in 42 matches – which is largely down to the fine form of their electrifying front three, who were all on target at the weekend.
Leading scorer James Poole now has 18 goals in all competitions since joining the club in September while Danny Webber and Jordan Hulme both have 14 league goals apiece.
Ashton, meanwhile, have conceded the most goals in the top five (46) and have just one clean sheet in their last four games having previously kept four successive shutouts.
But the Robins have already beaten Salford once this term with a 3-2 win at Moor Lane on an eventful night in October to reach the Manchester Premier Cup quarter-finals.
The Tameside outfit were boosted on Sunday by the news that forward Craig Lindfield has extended his loan from FC United until the end of the season.
Breaking: Craig Lindfield extends his loan at Ashton United until the end of the season
— Ashton United FC (@AshtonUnitedFC) April 3, 2016
They are looking to finish in the play-offs for the third season – which would be a remarkable feat for a club with one of the smallest budgets and lowest average attendances in the league.
Ashton will hope to chase down Salford, who themselves are looking to close the gap on second-placed Darlington to a solitary point with victory but the Quakers have played four fewer games.
The Ammies completed an extraordinary sequence of a club-record 18 consecutive victories on the road earlier this season but have been inconsistent on their travels lately, with three wins and three losses in their last six away games.
Both teams are under the stewardship of managerial duos, which are a rare occurrence in English football but have been highly effective for the respective clubs. Salford’s Morley works in tandon with Anthony Johnson, as they did at Ramsbottom United beforehand, while Ashton goalkeeper Paul Phillips is ably assisted by right-hand man Steve Halford.
All four are good mates but friendships will be on hold in what could be a significant midweek for both sides’ ambitions of reaching the National League North for the first time as the crunch month of the season begins.
Ashton United: Phillips (GK), Hindley (GK), Coo, Mason, Gorton (c), Halford, Lees, Vonnor, Haining, Baguley, Gee, Frost, Gray, Rick, Melia, King, Morning, Chadwick, Dean, Pilkington, Lindfield, Wharton.
Salford City: J Lynch (GK), Dootson (GK), Gumbs, Howson, O’Halloran, C Lynch (c), Stopforth, Burton, Priestley, Johnston, Clark, Mwasile, Hine, Allen, Moses, Hulme, Webber, Seddon, Poole.