WITH the Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division title race done and dusted following Stockton’s deserved first ever championship success, there is only the issue of relegation to be resolved.
Yet Gateshead Fell’s surprise victory at Benwell Hill on Monday appears to have also put that issue to bed.
The Fell turned in their best performance of the summer to defeat high-flying Hill by four wickets.
With South Shields losing at the same time, despite looking to have set up a victory opportunity against South North, it will take a major upturn in form for winless Shields to avoid the drop as they are now 41 points adrift of safety.
Fell entertain Sunderland on Saturday with their own safety in sight.
Boosted by two wins in their last four matches, they will be confident enough to go for the further victory that would ensure another season in the top flight.
Sunderland have failed to win in their last seven matches, and with Chris Rushworth likely to be tied up on Durham duty, Gateshead look to have the opportunity to further ease their concerns.
After bowling out South North for just 92 on Monday, Shields were then skittled themselves for 48. With that victory opportunity squandered, they must now fear the worst.
A trip to Hetton Lyons awaits the Wood Terrace club this weekend and they will face a side with Durham’s Ryan Pringle in the line-up.
Lyons’ investment in youth has been rewarded by the selection of two of their players, Jack Burnham and Sean Tindale, in the Durham County Under-17 side which is playing in the national two-day final against Kent at Arundel today and tomorrow.
Chester-le-Street’s outstanding T20 win over Pudsey Congs last Sunday saw them through to a third consecutive national T20 finals day, this one being played at the Kia Oval on Friday, September 13.
Their semi-final opponents will be Lancashire club Ormskirk. If they negotiate that hurdle, they will meet the winners of the Wimbledon-Banbury tie.
There is little doubt their main focus from now on will be on their big day in front of the Sky TV cameras, but they have a couple of league matches to tackle before then, with a Ropery Lane encounter with Benwell Hill coming up this weekend.
The Cestrians’ only team question mark is over the availability of Usman Arshad because of his Durham commitments, but other than that they have a full squad at their disposal.
Durham Academy continue to have injury problems, with James Weighell now diagnosed as carrying a stress fracture of the back.
On Saturday, they play Blaydon, who also have injury issues, with Geoff Stewart missing and likely to be replaced by David Bailey.
South North travel to Nottingham on Sunday to take on the West Indian Cavaliers in the semi-final of the national club cup, but they will be missing Michael Craigs, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Before that, they host Tynemouth, who have to reckon without Matthew Brown, while Phil Morse and Greg Hollins have knee and thumb injuries that end their season prematurely.