The heat is on Hylton as they head into the final three games of a disappointing campaign with the threat of relegation from Division One hanging over them.
Hylton were hoping to write an exciting new chapter in their history this summer with the signing of former West Indian international bowler Marlon Black being seen as a major coup for the Wearsiders.
Several other signings suggested that they would be competing nearer the top of the table than the bottom, but it hasn’t worked out that way and they go into the run-in some 16 points adrift of third-bottom Easington in the battle to avoid going down with bottom club Boldon CA.
Skipper Alan Mustard, who, despite his side’s parlous position, has scored more than 600 league runs at an average of 50, is realistic enough to know the cards are stacked against his team.
“This weekend’s home match against Bill Quay is pretty much a ‘must win’ game,” he told the Echo.
“Realistically, I think we need to win at least two of our remaining three games and draw the other one to stand a chance of catching the teams above us.
“Although Easington still have a couple of tough games in Castle Eden and Esh Winning, they do play Boldon CA on the final day, so I think we’ll need to be ahead of them at that stage to stand a chance.”
One of those close-season signings, Gary Frater, misses the next two games and Hylton have deferred naming a replacement for him until closer to the weekend.
Bill Quay, who are not out of the woods just yet themselves given they are just 26 points above their opponents, have one clear objective for the match, as outlined by skipper Jeff Tudor. He said: “As long as we don’t get beat on Saturday, we should be OK as far as our Division One status goes.”
Easington have to contend with a trip to Castle Eden on Saturday and possibly won’t know what to expect from an opposition side who have blown hot and cold all summer, with seven wins and six defeats.
Their depleted team took a bit of a pounding on home soil last week from Mainsforth, but they should at least have Alan Unsworth back for this one.
Up at the summit, it’s muck or nettles for Mainsforth when they entertain unbeaten leaders Esh Winning, who were expecting a visit from the Premier League pitch and facilities inspectors today to see if they can get their promotional passport stamped.
Esh lead their hosts by 78 points, although their opponents do have a game in hand which they play on Monday afternoon against Horden.
For the home side to keep their faint hopes alive, they must win, and win convincingly, but they have lost their Pakistani Test player, Faisal Iqbal, who has returned to his home country to captain a T20 franchise.
Esh skipper David Lawlor is relishing the prospect, saying: “We are all looking forward to the challenge of playing an outstanding Mainsforth team in our most important game for a very long time.
“We are excited about this game, and are very hopeful we can go on to capture the Durham Cricket League crown, so that we are able to play in the Premier League next season.”
Esh will be missing Michael Oughton, Stuart Hall and Lee Goodwin, losses which will test their normal 12-man first-team resources.
In other top-flight games, second-placed Durham City, unbeaten in seven, are missing Callum Steel for the match at Dawdon, although Mudara Senanayake does return after recovering from an illness which sidelined him last week. Their hosts are back to full strength with the return of David Renwick.
Philadelphia have to reckon without the services of Peter Greenwell and Paul Hollinshead when they host Horden, who will be missing Shaun Bradbury for both the Bunker Hill match, and also the rearranged trip to Mainsforth on Monday. Jamie Greenwood is back from holiday to compensate.
For Division Two sides, it’s another double weekend, with Saturday’s round of league games being followed by another set on Monday.
But out of all 12 games, the undoubted stand-out is the meeting at Seaham Park in two days time when the leaders entertain second-placed Burnopfield, who are now just 18 points adrift of their opponents after a scintillating run of seven straight wins.
During that seven-game bonanza, Burnopfield have clawed back 58 points on their rivals to change a one-horse title race into a real twosome, and the pressure is now on the home side to reproduce the form that saw them win the first encounter between the two teams back in mid-June.
After Saturday, Park go to Ushaw Moor for their second game, while Burnopfield, who are able to include Stephen Allen again in a full strength line-up, have a home game against Whiteleas, who have lost their overseas player, Sunzow Brahma, following his return to India after selection for his state side.
While the leading pair would seem to be nailed on for promotion, Marsden should not be ruled out. They lie third, just 29 points behind Burnopfield and 47 adrift of Park, but, with at least one of those sides losing points on Saturday, the in-form challengers, who have won seven of their last eight, could yet have a say.
Both Chris and Colin Mann miss Saturday’s home game against Evenwood because of a family wedding, but leading all-rounder Nick Quinn returns, while, on Monday, Marsden “Mann up” with the two key players back in the side for the trip to Murton.
Skipper Chris is ever hopeful, saying:, “I’m gutted to be missing Saturday’s match, but family must come first.
“We’re playing good cricket at the moment, so, despite not having a spinner on Saturday, I’m sure our seamers can do the job for us.
“We’re relying a little on Seaham doing us a favour by beating Burnopfield, but even if it’s a draw that won’t be a bad thing as we still have Burnopfield to play.”