Dukes North East Premier League Premier Division by Chris West
HETTON Lyons have the chance to stake a real claim on the championship when they travel to Roseworth Terrace on Saturday to take on the team who are currently 40 points ahead of them in the title race.
It’s basically a do or die encounter for the Lyons – beat South Northumberland and it’s game on for the final seven matches of the season, lose and it’s virtually game over.
When the pair last met, in early May, South North got the better of a rain-affected stalemate, and since then the Bulls have been unbeaten in league combat, their unrelenting consistency helping them forge their healthy lead.
And they sprang a major surprise in last Sunday’s T20 finals day when former Australian Test player Marcus North made his debut for them in the semi-final victory over host club Tynemouth, although the day didn’t end well as they went on to lose out in the final to Durham Academy.
In terms of team news this week, South North have simply indicated that they have a few selection issues, with their final team not being named until tomorrow.
Lyons have to reckon without Shaun Birbeck again, and it looks like Ryan Pringle won’t be playing either as he is likely to be named in Durham’s squad for Sunday.
If that’s the case then Cameron Grimwood will replace him, while Rob Talbot comes in for Birbeck.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland are casting anxious glances over their shoulder at Gateshead Fell.
To all intents and purposes the Fell looked doomed seven days ago, but they were the only team to squeeze out a positive result in last week’s rain-affected programme.
As a result, their first win of the summer brought them to within 33 points of the second-bottom Wearsiders.
Sunderland entertain Whitburn at Ashbrooke on Saturday, and, with Mattie Dench unavailable, Adam Craven earns a call-up.
Whitburn bring in Craig Henderson for the injured Michael Bittlestone, who may be sidelined for some time. Michael Turns, who is now back for the rest of the summer, should get a chance to build on last week’s weather-affected seasonal debut .
Durham Academy will be trying to reproduce their short format form when they take on Newcastle at Jesmond.
The difference between their cup and league form was highlighted last week, and the youngsters added further evidence of that when they turned in two great T20 performances against Benwell Hill and South North to take the NEPL title for the first time.
However, they have yet to win a league game and, with a couple of their successful short format players returning to their clubs, including skipper James Weighell, it will be up to the normal league squad to turn draws into victories.
Chester-le-Street welcome fading champions Stockton to Ropery Lane encouraged by the recent first-team performances of Gareth Wade, who has bowled well in his last three games.
With Andrew Smith returning to his best form over the last month or so, the Cestrians will be confident of building on a run that has seen them lose just once in their last 11 outings.
By contrast, the Teessiders have won just one of their last seven, with the four defeats included in that sequence ending any notions they harboured of successfully defending their title.
They show one change, with wicketkeeper Peter Howells returning from honeymoon.
Tynemouth bring in Ben McGee for Marcus Turner when they entertain Benwell Hill, while Gateshead Fell have Michael Dicks and Mike Phillips replacing Andy Porter and Michael Elliott when they try and add to that confidence-building first win at Blaydon.