Uphill battle for Sunderland Harriers

Michael Barker.

Michael Barker.

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SUNDERLAND Harriers need to be at the very top of their form – if they are to come from behind and win the North Eastern Harrier League senior men’s first division title at Prudhoe on Saturday.

The Wearsiders go into the sixth and final fixture in third place, three points behind leaders Morpeth and one adrift of second club Gateshead.

They have miraculously hauled themselves back into contention for the league title after a dire start to their season.

At one stage they were down among the bottom clubs after finishing second off last in the first league meeting at Cramlington.

Now, with two superb wins under their belt, they face their final hurdle with an outside chance of stealing the Sisterton Cup from the arms of their rivals.

They have been in this position before, on more than one occasion, and surprised many by producing the goods on the toughest of all Harrier League courses.

But it will not be all about Sunderland’s performance, as they will be relying on both Morpeth and Gateshead on slipping-up in their final run in for the title.

Morpeth have never won it before and Gateshead are the defending champions, while Sunderland are the most successful club in the history of the competition.

Since 2010 they have won the league title ten times and they are one of only two clubs, Wallsend is the other, to have never been outside the first division.

Team manager Paul Redman said: “We know we have a hill to climb. But the title is certainly not out of reach. We have to turn out in strength to produce good performances and hope that other results go our way.’’

Redman will be hoping to call upon Craig Isherwood, Michael Barker, Nathan Reed, Steve Graham, Ian Dixon, Steve Gordon, Sean Smith, Alan Knebel and Noel Hitchcock, for the six-to-count team race.

The final league event also brings to a conclusion the Wearsiders cross country grand prix.

Leader Paul Redman, on 61 points, cannot be caught. Dean Phillips and Len Christopher will finish second and third respectively.

But with five prizes on offer, there are four athletes fighting it out for the final two places. Peter Richardson on 47 points is unavailable for Saturday, so in his absence Nathan Reed (44), Steve Graham (44) and Craig Isherwood (40) will fight it out for the final two places.

Sunderland Strollers will have to do another Houdini act, like they did last year, if they are to avoid relegation to the second division. They are second off bottom with 39 points, one ahead of bottom club North Shields.

League table: 1 Morpeth 14pts, 2 Gateshead 16 3 Sunderland Harriers 17, 4 South Shields 20, 5 Durham 23, 6 Low Fell 31, 7 Wallsend 37, 8 Heaton 37, 9 Sunderland Strollers 39, 10 North Shields 40.

Houghton Harriers are also in a relegation battle, being in danger of the drop to the third division.

The Sunderland under17/20 women’s team have just to turn-up to win their league. The athletes are Amy Coulson, Anna Robinson, Merial Smithson and Alex Pearson.

The meeting starts at 12.15pm with the under-11s race. The senior men are off at 1.15pm. Changing is at Prudhoe High School.