WITH six games to go, Dukes North East Premier League First Division clubs face back to back fixtures over the next two weekends when they play the same opponents home and away.
This strange twist in the fixture programme means Seaham Harbour could make a real impact on the promotion race as they take on South Shields in their double, starting with the home game on Saturday.
At first glance, the league table, with Harbour in the bottom half, suggests Shields should have the upper hand, but the recent form of the two sides hasn’t been that far apart, with Harbour taking 114 points from their last eight games to Shields’ 129.
Seaham’s problems stemmed from the fact that they were slow out of the blocks, picking up just 16 points in their first four games, a run which saw them anchored in the bottom two.
Since then, they have gradually clawed their way up the ladder, with a top-half finish now well within their sights. Harbour have a full-strength side in the field on Saturday with Jack Lacey and Nathan Newton back from their holidays, while Andy Stephenson has recovered from his hand injury.
Shields chairman Jim Elliott is well aware that his team’s opponents present a real threat.
He said: “We haven’t seen them yet this season, so we don’t know too much about them, but this is a good league and a competitive one – any team can beat any other team on their day. There are no weak teams.”
Shields will go into the match with their “club” players, and they have Michael Dunn and Chris Stewart back from holiday, while the evergreen Mike Fishwick will be playing again following his good knock last week.
Shields have not used their Durham players over the last month, a deliberate policy, although Michael Richardson is no longer available to them after his move last week to Chester-le-Street.
Elliott clarified the position with Richardson as far as Shields are concerned, saying: “We were advised by the league to register Michael as a category two (England qualified) player when he joined us, but it was subsequently decided by them that he should still be classed as a category three (overseas) player until certain formalities are completed in the next month or so.
“As we already had a category three player (Tim David), and clubs are only allowed one, we had to let his registration with ourselves lapse.”
Second-placed Washington, currently 31 points behind Shields, play Boldon in their double header, beginning at Sunderland Road on Saturday.
They are the current form team, with skipper Ash Thorpe in particularly good form in recent weeks, and he is able to pick from a full squad and anticipates naming an unchanged line-up.
Boldon have Neil Johnson back from holiday, and he is likely to be their only change.
Eppleton will meet Premier outfit Chester-le-Street in the Banks Salver final on August 17, but before then they have the little matter of two league games against Sacriston.
They cannot afford to be distracted by the big event if they are to maintain an interest in the title race.
The first game this Saturday is at Church Road and, with home advantage, Eppleton will be keen to wipe out the 10-point lead third-placed Sacriston currently hold over them.
They go into the game with a full squad to choose from following the return from holiday of skipper Graham Hoban and Liam Mallaburn.
Sacriston make just one change, with young all-rounder Jack Keall replacing the unavailable Mark Fort.
Willington have Luke Anderson available again when they entertain South Hetton, while full-strength Felling hope to continue their improved form when they host a Brandon team in freefall after three defeats and a washout in their last four games.