It’s now or never for Sunderland

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Last week’s Dukes ECB NEPL washout on Teesside means it’s getting to the now or never stage for Sunderland if their title dreams are to remain alive, as they prepare to face South Shields this weekend.

Their flying start to the season, which included an early four game winning streak, took them well clear of the field by late May, but two months later their run of just two wins in ten games has seen them fall 38 points behind an ever more convincing Blaydon.

The abandoned game at Stockton made it just 13 points from their last three games, and with just six matches of the campaign to go they need to recover their earlier form in the next few weeks when they are set to meet the three teams above them with consecutive matches against South North, Chester-le-Street and Blaydon almost certain to define their season.

But before that run they take on South Shields at Ashbrooke on Saturday with a large points haul the primary aim against a side who had been struggling themselves until a nerve jangling one wicket victory over the Academy last week ended a sequence of 11 games without a win.

The Wearsiders’ line-up is likely to be unchanged from the one that played at Stockton, with Tom Skilbeck, Chris Youldon and Paul Woolston still on the unavailability list, and Chris Rushworth on Durham duty.

Shields could stick with the team that ended their winless run, with their main threat as ever likely to come from Mattie Muchall, whose three wickets against the Academy took his league aggregate to 35 for the season, just two behind the leading wicket taker, Kieran Waterson.

Chester-le-Street travel to Hetton Lyons trying to shake off a run which has seen them draw five and lose one of their last six, but they will have skipper Quentin Hughes back at the helm, and with their front line batsmen misfiring at the moment there will be a few posers for the selectors, with George Harrison and David Martin in contention for places.

Lyons bring Graham Martin in for the missing Jonny Malkin.

The Cestrians took one step closer to Edgbaston last Sunday when they defeated Central Yorkshire League side Methley in the northern area T20 semi-final, but they were then frustrated by the weather when the final against Great Ayton was abandoned just past the half way point.

Despite the rules suggesting a bowl out was the next option to get a result on the day, the two sides agreed they would rather try and play the match and, with ECB agreement, a coin was tossed for venue.

Chester now travel to the North Yorkshire village on Sunday afternoon to play the match which has effectively become a straight knockout to see who goes into the last eight nationally.

In this weekend’s other league games, Durham Academy go to Roseworth Terrace to take on South North and don’t have too many selection problems, Tynemouth enjoy home advantage when they tackle bottom club Gateshead Fell, Newcastle entertain Stockton, and leaders Blaydon look to consolidate their position when they make the short trip to Denton Bank to play the struggling Benwell Hill.