Philadelphia captain Shaun Smith is hoping to make home advantage count – starting with this weekend’s double-header against Whiteleas and Dawdon at Bunker Hill.
Before a ball was bowled, Phili were installed as favourites to compete for promotion after finishing third in Division One last season, when they lost fewer games than any other side.
But it’s all gone pear-shaped and, at the halfway stage of the season, Smith’s side is looking to the bottom of the table, rather than the top.
Smith said: “It’s often a fine line. We played well early doors when we were within one or two wickets of winning games but it is a fact we’ve only managed a couple of victories.
“I was, though, really impressed with the way we played last week on a very difficult, rain affected wicket at Horden, whose professional Lal Kumar bowled particularly well.
“We now have seven of our remaining 11 games at home and hopefully our season will kick start.”
Phili’s chances of enjoying a rare double are not great though, since neither David Lowther nor Jack McBeth are available at home to Whiteleas on Saturday.
The pair are replaced by Mattie Noble and Jamie Parkinson. McBeth resumes for the visit of Dawdon on Sunday.
If Philadelphia have disappointed, Whiteleas have certainly been the surprise package.
Promoted last season, they have taken the top flight in their stride and they are just 20 points behind leaders Seaham Park.
Skipper Owen Peterson accepts that his team has exceeded all expectations.
He said: “We were a lot of peoples’ favourites to be involved in a relegation scrap, however, we made a fantastic start and have carried on from there. We are really enjoying the challenge.”
Peterson names the same side that won at the weekend but is forced to make one change for Sunday’s visit to Castle Eden since Rob Scorer is ruled out.
His place is taken by David Arrowsmith, who makes his debut following several impressive performances in the second XI.
Horden, like Philadelphia, have not lived up to expectations. They ended runners-up last time but have won only twice and lie fifth from bottom.
Long-serving official Ray Matthews admits that even with 11 games to play, the championship is out of reach.
“We had a bad first half of the season but our professional Lal Kumar is now into full swing with his bowling so you just don’t know what might happen. We are certainly looking to improve,” observed Matthews.
After meeting local rivals Castle Eden, the Colliers travel to Esh Winning. Both fixtures will undoubtedly prove difficult for Adam Dixon’s side.
It’s top versus bottom when leaders Seaham Park have home advantage of Littletown, whose confidence received a boost with last week’s win.
Littletown’s head of cricket, Greg Arundel, said: “We had a great result against Easington last Saturday and hope it is the turning point in our season.
“Our overseas player Siddhesh Kinalekar has clearly given the team a lift but it’s still going to be tough going against Seaham Park.”
Littletown’s second weekend fixture is at home to Bill Quay who are just two places above them at the bottom of the table.
Easington are at home on both days. Following the visit of Durham City they host local rivals Seaham Park when both sides will be looking to maintain their challenge for the title.
Stalwart Arthur Broxson commented: “We are a little disappointed after losing our last two games but are still third-top, just 20 points adrift of leaders Seaham Park.
“We face two difficult challenges but we’ll go into them in a positive frame of mind.”
The match of the day in Division Two on Saturday is between top of the pile Crook Town and second-placed Marsden at Jack Clark Park. Only two points separate the pair.
One thing for sure, Crook will need to capture the wicket of Chris Mann early if they are to have a chance of extending their lead.
Mann has been in exhilarating form all season and could well top the 1000-runs mark in the double header, which ends with the visit to Ryhope on Sunday.
First, Ryhope go to Peterlee with only five points dividing the two teams mid-way in the table.
Ryhope’s only change sees the return of Jack Tomlin, who takes over from Sam Groark.
“We’ve improved recently and are looking for a better second half of the season but this week-end will not be easy.
“We only just managed to defeat Peterlee in the earlier fixture and Marsden are riding high,” said secretary Alan Mason.
A huge blow for Murton is the news that Alan Welburn will not play again this season.
He suffered an injury at Ushaw Moor last summer and although he played in an early-season game, has recently had his cruciate ligament reconstructed.
“I’m really devastated but I’ve been told to forget about playing again until next season,” said Welburn.
Murton’s double is against Hylton and Ushaw Moor. The team will be unchanged at Hylton but on Sunday Richie Arnott is unavailable and Sam Sanderson doubtful.
Hylton are minus Jon Stokoe and Kevin Mustard against Murton but Andrew Reynoldson is free to play. The Wearsiders’ second fixture is at Langley Park.
Following Houghton’s withdrawal from the league before the start of the season, Silksworth have only one fixture at Peterlee on Sunday.
Peterlee, always keen to promote youngsters, sit halfway in the table, but Silksworth are again struggling at the bottom, with just one win in 10 attempts.