FOUR of the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division’s top five teams meet head on this weekend, with Chester-le-Street possibly in the last chance saloon in terms of their title aspirations following last week’s disappointing combination of results.
Despite falling 40 points behind surprise package leaders Stockton, the Cestrians remain in second place, and the fixture list has handed them the perfect opportunity to drag back a big chunk of the lost ground when they travel to Teesside tomorrow to take a crack at the table-toppers.
Stockton have a fairly underwhelming North East Premier League record with a best ever finish of third, and 70 per cent of their 13 seasons resulting in bottom-half finishes.
But they have taken the league by storm this year, and showed their resilience by recovering superbly from their first defeat a couple of weeks ago to trounce title rivals Benwell Hill last week.
Stockton’s success has been based around the regular availability of their Durham players – Keaton Jennings and Jamie Harrison – together with the acknowledged abilities of all-rounder Richard Waite, who has been voted league player of the year on four occasions, the last of those when he was a Chester player.
It is an advantage for the Teessiders that Jennings is classed as their overseas player in registration terms as this allows them to play both their Durham men in the same team when availability permits – and the two have invariably proved match-winners.
After his eight-wicket blitz of Benwell Hill last week, Harrison now tops the league bowling averages. With Jennings averaging more than 50 with the bat, and Waite once again featuring in the leading all-round stats, the three are expected to be playing on Saturday in a full strength line-up.
Chester also hope to have a full squad to choose from.
Hetton Lyons’ powerful showing against the Cestrians last week moved them up to third, and they have an outside chance of making a late 10-game dash for honours, beginning with the visit of fifth-placed South North this weekend.
Ryan Pringle is expected to be unavailable, but other than that the Lilywhite Terrace club are at full strength, which is also the case for South North, whose indifferent league form contrasts with their successful run in the national knockout cup, in which they have now reached the last eight.
Sunderland skipper Dan Shurben, now up to seventh in the league batting averages, is missing from the Wearsiders’ team to take on Tynemouth as he carries out his duties as best man at a friend’s wedding.
With Arsalan Rahim still unavilable, Paul Woolston is called up to play in an otherwise unchanged team for the Ashbrooke meeting. Tynemouth include the returning Andrew Smith and Oli McGee.
Durham Academy’s improved showing in recent weeks has gone hand in hand with a clean bill of health for their players, and that is the case again this weekend when they take on Benwell Hill.
Winless South Shields go to Blaydon, who are unusually missing the normally permanent fixture of Allan Worthy, and Gateshead Fell have Andy Porter and Rammy Singh back for the trip to Newcastle.