DEFENDING champions Sunderland Harriers look likely to surrender their North East senior men’s Harrier League title – despite another superb team win at Blaydon on Saturday.
The Wearsiders pulled out all the stops at Shibdon Pond and placed their six counters inside the first 28 finishers in the handicap 5.2-mile race to romp home with the team contest.
But with rivals Morpeth and Heaton Harriers filling second and third positions, the Wearsiders are still five points off the lead with only one fixture remaining, at Prudhoe a week on Saturday.
Sunderland, who have dominated the league since 1980 with 24 wins and 10 triumphs during the last 11 years, are almost certain to be waving goodbye to the Sisterton trophy unless their rivals have a disaster on the tough Prudhoe course.
The city club have only themselves to blame for their position after suffering their worst-ever league performance at Newcastle’s Town Moor in January.
They turned out a bare bones of a team and slumped to ninth of the 10 competing Premier League clubs.
While they have hit back with two team wins and lifted themselves from sixth to third in the league, the mountain to climb appears to be too great for the royal blue vests.
At Blaydon they dominated the race by placing North Moor fireman Norman Younger (31.34) and fellow veteran Ken Bell (31.54) in second and third positions, both running from the slow pack.
It was Younger’s first race for nearly six years, having come back to the sport after being persuaded to train along with his fire station colleagues for May’s Edinburgh Marathon.
During his training programme he has lost two-and-a-half stones since last year and the benefit showed in the race as he never dropped out of second place.
Next across the line were fast pack runners Jack Martin in fifth (27.28) and Mark Hood in 11th (27.59).
The duo had a running battle with the Morpeth pair of Peter Newton (seventh – 27.38) and Matt Nicholson (ninth – 27.50).
Martin, 23, beset by injury problems, pulled away over the last lap to make a fine comeback and clock the fastest time of the day, with Hood the fourth quickest.
Closing the scoring for Sunderland were medium pack runners Jake Archer in 25th (31.20) and Noel Hitchcock 28th (31.29).
H Sunderland Harriers’ landed the M45 team gold medals in the British Masters’ Cross-Country Championships at Perry Barr, Birmingham on Saturday.
A below-par Brian Rushworth, suffering from an Achilles tendon problem, led the city club home in 12th (27.48).
The defending M45 champion struggled over the 8k course outside Alexander Stadium to clinch the bronze individual medal.
The 48-year-old, who has never been outside the first three in his category since turning 40, was backed by Tim Field in 29th (28.38), Brian Bewick 41st (29.11) and Paul Redman 59th (29.53). They held off Staffs Moorlands by 40 seconds to claim the title.
North Shields won team silver in the over-35s with Iain Twaddle, 27.22, leading them in. South Shields were fifth team in the over-65s with Bob Balmer 29.27, Arthur Potter 30.14 and Ken McDonald 37.27.
H Sunderland Harrier Patrick Martin had another great performance with fourth place in the classy Trafford 10k yesterday in a personal best of 29.42.
Results: 1 Edwin Kipkorir (Birchfield) 29:15, 2 Jonny Taylor (Morpeth) 29:18, 3 Ricky Stevenson (New Marske) 29:29, 4 Patrick Martin (Sunderland) 29:42, 5 Zachary Kihara (Birchfield) 29:46, 6 Matt Clowes (Staffs Moorlands) 30:12, 7 Josh Lilley (Tipton) 30:15, 8 Ian Hudspith (Morpeth) 30:17.