Champions to test Sunderland ambitions

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A FOUR-DAY bank holiday bonanza beckons for the majority of Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division clubs with the start of the T20 tomorrow night, followed by Saturday’s league action and then the round of the last 16 on Monday in the expanded Banks Salver competition

Both Sunderland and Chester-le-Street have the ideal opportunity to make positive moves up the league standings, with the Wearsiders welcoming champions South Northumberland to Ashbrooke and the Cestrians travelling to Blaydon.

After starting with two consecutive wins, Sunderland slipped to fifth in the table following their home defeat at the hands of Benwell Hill, but they are just eight points adrift of second-placed South North, who have shown uncharacteristic signs of fallibility themselves.

The Wearsiders are delighted to have had confirmation that Mitch Claydon will be available to put them at full strength, while South North are able to select Sam Jobson for the first time this season after he completed a four-week suspension held over from last year. He replaces Phil Bell in their line-up.

Chester are just two points behind Sunderland, and eight adrift of Saturday’s hosts Blaydon, who have won the last two games they have played fairly convincingly.

Everyone in the Cestrians’ squad is fit and well and they are hoping the Blaydon deck will suit David Foster, their young left-arm spinner who has been playing some second team cricket for Durham.

Blaydon’s record run-maker, Allan Worthy, knows the challenge Chester will present but, as ever, is not short of confidence.

He said: “Given Chester’s batting and our bowling strengths. it should be a great game. Having home advantage will be in our favour and so we can feel confident of a good showing.

“We will be without Mark Stoneman, who will be on Durham duty – I think we will have to resign ourselves to the fact that ‘Rocky’may not be able to play many games for us this season given his form for the County. Other than that, we expect to name a full-strength side.”

No team has a more intense four days to come than Hetton Lyons.

They’re at Jesmond to face Newcastle in the T20 tomorrow night, then they have a run of three consecutive home games with Durham Academy dropping in to Lilywhite Terrace on Saturday, a third attempt being made to play the national club cup tie against Stockton on Sunday, and the weekend being rounded off with Monday’s Banks Salver set-to with Sunderland.

With all that to come, it’s just as well skipper Shaun Birbeck is free from work commitments and back to lead the side.

Despite the attractions of cup tie cricket, there is little doubt that the league will be uppermost in the thoughts of both South Shields and Tynemouth at Wood Terrace on Saturday.

The two sides are part of a trio of teams who have already slipped a fair way behind the rest and the old cliché of the match being a “six-pointer” was specifically made for games such as this.

Shields are waiting to hear about Durham batsman Gordon Muchall’s availability, but other than that should be at full strength, and they are getting ever nearer to the arrival of Kiwi Tom Latham, which is now just a couple of weeks away.

Shields entertain Chester-le-Street in an intriguing Banks Salver tie on Monday, while Benwell Hill welcome Boldon to Denton Bank.

* First Division and Readers Durham Cricket League previews in today’s Sunderland Echo