THE Dukes North East Premier League First Division title race comes to the boil this weekend when second-placed Eppleton entertain table-toppers South Shields in the game of the season so far.
It could be that the Shields lads will need to be issued with Sat Navs as this will be the first time they have had to travel for a league game since mid-June, with an unusual run of four successive matches on their own ground helping them forge a 39-point lead over the chasing pack headed by Eppleton.
They won each one of those four home games, yet could easily have lost all four, with the closest of all those being the game against Eppleton a month ago which Shields managed to scrape by the wafer-thin margin of two runs.
Eppleton will be confident they can reverse that result on their own patch, although they have to reckon without Liam Mallaburn, who is attending a family wedding.
It is hoped that David Wilkinson will have recovered sufficiently from his muscle tear to take his place.
Club secretary John Smithson recognises the importance of this match for his boys, saying: “This is as big as they come.
“Shields have a big lead and it’s important that the rest of us start making some inroads into that.
“The first game a few weeks ago was a great match, extremely tight, and it was played in a tremendous spirit between the two sides which I hope will be the same on Saturday.”
Shields have sprung something of a surprise by sticking by the same team which won last week’s game against Brandon, a match that was won without the services of either of their Durham registered players.
The surprise comes in the fact that Gordon Muchall is available this week, but chairman Jim Elliott explained the club’s policy, revealing: “The lads did exceptionally well last week and thoroughly deserve to play again, so we are going with our club players.
“If we are to play Premier Division cricket again some time in the future it is important these lads get first-team experience.
“My view is that professionals should be there to help when teams are going through difficult periods and help is needed on the field, but when they are doing well and they have earned the right to play it is important we bring on our home-grown talent. That’s the philosophy.”
Despite some indifferent form of late, Sacriston are still in a position to launch a bid for promotion as the second half of the season begins to unfold, and they entertain Washington, who are one place and one point above them.
Sacriston have Jonathan Rudolf back for this one. He has missed the last month after suffering bruised ribs in his last appearance where he claimed five wickets.
With disappointment in recent results, the team is being freshened up, and Ian Jones is handed an opportunity after two successive half-centuries for the second team.
Washington skipper Ash Thorpe is likely to stick with the same XI who won emphatically at South Hetton last week, and he believes there is plenty of time for teams to state a promotion case.
Thorpe said: “We’ve got a very tough game against Sacriston, who will be wanting to bounce back from a couple of disappointing performances.
“We are only 12 points off second place and, while Shields have now opened up a bit of a gap, we’re only at the mid-point of the season, so it is still all to play for.”
Boldon go to Felling with the same team that toppled Sacriston last time out, while South Hetton seek to halt a disastrous run of form, which has seen them lose four on the trot, although they have to reckon without Tony Murphy for the visit of a Seaham Harbour side who are able to include Jack Lacey and Shoaib Akhtar.
Willington are boosted by the return of Steve Alderson, Max Bailey and Jack Weeks for the visit of Brandon.