WHARFEDALE'S head coach James Doherty reckons that Saturday's big derby at Otley (2pm) could well be close.

"It will be decided by fine margins, such as who handles the referee better," said the former Otley backs coach.

"There could even be households where someone supports the black and whites and someone supports the greens."

Despite the National League Two North table, where Wharfedale are bottom and Otley fifth from bottom, nine points above the Dalesmen, both teams are going into the contest surprisingly buoyant.

The Greens beat South Leicester 28-25 in their last game at The Avenue, and then ran leaders Hinckley close away from home, gaining a losing bonus point when most people expected them to come away with nothing.

Otley, meanwhile, have won two of their last three matches, defeating Macclesfield at Cross Green and winning last weekend 23-18 at Luctonians, a victory which took them out of the relegation places.

Mind you, a 20-5 home loss to second-from-bottom Sheffield was sandwiched between those victories, and Luctonians haven't won at home since the end of September - a run of five straight defeats, although they beat both Blaydon and Wharfedale in that first month at Mortimer Park.

While Otley were triumphing in Hertfordshire last weekend, however, the Green Machine had their home match against Tynedale frozen off.

Doherty said: "The intriguing thing is whether it is better to have a week off or whether it is better to have played last weekend.

"I suppose we will only know about 3.30pm on Saturday, but we feel that we can take confidence from our performances against South Leicester and Hinckley.

"One thing is for certain - we won't need any firing up to face Otley in a Christmas derby, and I am sure that Cleggy (Otley's director of rugby Peter Clegg) will have Otley fired up.

"I notice that Kyle Dench is playing again for Otley. He is a good lad, I know him from his days at Otley and Harrogate, and he is still a quality player."

Clegg, whose side won the clash at The Avenue 17-14 in September, said of the win against Luctonians: "We deserved it, but didn't get the rub of the green in the last 20 minutes, which made it closer.

"As for Saturday, we are expecting a full-on frontal assault from Wharfedale, no quarter asked, no quarter given, from the start right to the end.

"They performed excellently at Hinckley, and players such as Adam Howard have made a difference, but we are expecting to have Paul Petchey, Alexander Beaumont, Jack Mackie and Mike Coady available in the backs.

"We just hope that we can do enough to get the points, but it is going to be tight at the bottom of the table right until the end of the season."

Doherty explained the reasons for last Saturday's postponement, saying: "There was no point in us putting down covers over the frozen ground so we put them down on Thursday, which takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

"About 90 per cent of the ground was playable then, but it got colder and we made an early decision on Saturday morning so that Tynedale didn't have to travel."