Burnmoor face perhaps the biggest remaining Readers Durham Cricket League hurdle in their eight game run-in when they go to Horden on Saturday.
The Moor regard their hosts as one of their ‘bogey teams’, and the respect they afford them is well founded, as Horden are currently enjoying a magnificent run of form which has seen them undefeated in the last eleven matches.
The last two of which have featured victories over the other two title challengers, Esh Winning and Castle Eden.
Home-skipper Carl Watson, reflected on his club’s improved showings after a modest start to the campaign in which they won just one of their opening six games.
An opening sequence that has effectively denied them their own crack at the inaugural title, Waston said: “The club got off to a slow start this season, but more recently we have put together a good string of results, and after defeating Castle Eden last time out, that takes our unbeaten run to eleven matches.”
Watson has set his sights on Horden rising even higher than their current sixth place.
“The title race looks like being between Burnmoor and Esh, as they have opened up a fair gap on the chasing pack, but if we can keep our run going, maybe we can sneak into third spot which would be a good effort after our slow start to the season,” Watson commented.
“We have Burnmoor to play this week which will clearly be a tough game, and then we still have a couple of sides above us to play.
“So that should give us an opportunity to claw back points on those teams and maybe leapfrog a couple of them.
“It’s been an enjoyable first season in the new league and if we can make a top three finish, we’d be delighted with that.”
Horden hope to be at full strength for the next stage of their journey up the table.
Paul Jenkins has returned and resumes behind the sticks, while Adam Dixon will possibly return after recovering from a hand injury.
The same can’t be said of the visitors, with Burnmoor missing a large chunk of their strike force.
Ian Conn and Paul Davidson have joined Karl Bellerby on the holiday rota, so that is three of the Moor’s main bowlers out.
With Graham Stoker working, the table-toppers have turned to youth in the shape of 19-year-old Stephen Walt, who will make his league debut, and 17-year-old McKenzie Wright.
At the other end of the experience scale, Gary Brown continues.
Esh Winning will be hoping the Horden hoodoo continues for Burnmoor, as it will provide an opportunity to claw back some of the 20 point gap between the leading pair.
Esh go to Boldon CA, who look like being without several key players as Tommy Nixon, Lee Jackson and Ian Male are unlikely to be available for selection.
Esh will travel with a full strength squad with injury concerns over Paul Chivers proving unfounded last weekend.
Chivers destroyed Easington last week, but the beaten side have a chance to bounce back immediately in a game featuring fifth versus third.
Easington will be hoping to banish the negative thoughts that being bowled out for 36 leave inside batsmen’s heads.
They have the perfect opportunity to get back on track when they entertain Castle Eden, who themselves have their first defeat of the season to get over.
The Castle have Keith Bailey back following his last minute drop out last week.
Whatever Saturday’s results bring at the top of the tree, it will still be the case that the title will almost certainly go to Burnmoor or Esh, such is their current lead over the chasing pack.
So it is the battle for ‘middle earth’ which could catch the attention in the final weeks, as teams jostle to make the top 14 ‘cut’ which will guarantee them a place in the top flight next season.
Hylton are currently fourteenth, 25 points above Durham City in fifteenth.
Just one defeat in seven has given them a decent margin of safety over the gathering hordes in the lower reaches, but a draw last time out, coupled with a City win, took a bit of the breathing space away.
Hylton entertain Whiteleas this Saturday, but they are ‘down to the bare bones’ with Gavin Barnes, Adam Bewick, Andy Kibble and John Stokoe all marked absent.
Selection has been deferred for an end of the week head count, but a number of juniors will be handed an opportunity.
For large parts of the opening half of the season, Whiteleas looked set to complete a fairytale rise to the 2014 top flight, but ten games without a win has virtually scuppered their chances, as they now have 46 points to make up.
Alex Wragg is missing this week, with his place taken by the returning Scott Baxter.
Durham City continue their quest at Murton, and with the home team going into the game on the back of seven straight defeats, the chance is there for City to exploit their hosts lack of confidence.
Skipper Nick Howe is likely to be a miss because of a wedding, and Danni Hazell has a back injury, but Johnny Harding is expected to play despite problems with his hamstring.
Murton make one change with Paul Smailes expected to return.
Tom Raine makes his seasonal debut for Philadelphia following his return from Oxford University.
He holds the unique distinction of being the first person in the near 150-year history of Phili to go to Oxford.
Raine’s return is welcome as Mattie Haswell and Peter Greenwell are unavailable for the trip to Seaham Park, while Adam Maguire’s broken thumb may yet require another operation.
The Park bench will be missing skipper Mick McNicholas, but Michael Watson is back.