NE Premier League:

Title-chasing Eppleton: Back row, from left: John Smithso (diirector of cricket), Joe Dodd, Paul Davidson, Dean Musther, Zaheer Shahbaz, Kyle Davis. Front: Joe Bute, Craig Scurr, Gary Burlinson, Graham Hoban, Kamran Shah, Sam Blacklock.
Title-chasing Eppleton: Back row, from left: John Smithso (diirector of cricket), Joe Dodd, Paul Davidson, Dean Musther, Zaheer Shahbaz, Kyle Davis. Front: Joe Bute, Craig Scurr, Gary Burlinson, Graham Hoban, Kamran Shah, Sam Blacklock.
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With the most dramatic of finales beckoning in the First Division title race, three of the four contenders head into the bank holiday weekend with key figures having to be excluded from their team plans at perhaps the most crucial time of the season.

The one side untouched by any changes are Burnmoor, who drew level with Eppleton at the top of the table when they managed to defeat South Hetton before the weather that thwarted their rivals’ victory bid hit their own fixture.

Moor have potentially the toughest game on Saturday as they play host to one of the other teams in the title chasing quartet, Washington, but their visitors have selection problems ahead of the game with their key absentee being former Durham County player Mel Betts.

In the first meeting between the sides back in June, Betts gave the Burnmoor batters a torrid time, reducing them to 49-7 at one stage before a small recovery to 113 all out ahead of a five-wicket defeat.

Betts heads the First Division bowling averages, having taken 35 wickets at just over eight apiece, so his absence is a major blow to Washington.

With Mark Watson also holidaying this weekend, injured skipper Ash Thorpe sidelined for the rest of the summer because of a knee injury, and uncertainty over the availability of James Thompson, Burnmoor could hardly have picked a better time to play the side just 10 points below them.

The even better news for the Moor is that they expect to be at full strength, with the influential Stephen Meek expected to play after missing last week’s game.

Eppleton, tied at the top with Burnmoor, would love to say the same for their trip to Brandon, but holidays and social engagements have stripped them of three players.

With David Wilkinson still unavailable, Dean Musther, last week’s centurion, is also out, as is Paul Davidson, who has only recently resumed playing and had been looking good with the ball.

Todd Davis and Joe Bute are drafted into the side to play a Brandon team who have only won once in their last 11 outings.

They have their own problems, with overseas player Sairaj Raghavan missing from their dressing room, although Jamie Robinson is set to return.

Willington’s outstanding victory over Boldon last week lifted them to within two points of the summit, but, having initially coped well with the loss of overseas professional Anand Singh for the rest of the season, they have now been struck another blow following the news that young all-rounder Jamie Dass, who has been opening the bowling, is also out for the summer after fracturing a foot playing football.

They have deferred naming their team for the trip to Sacriston on Saturday.

At the opposite end of the table, South Hetton need a miracle to survive, having slipped 46 points behind the teams directly above them.

Having not won for 10 matches, and with just three games left to play, their fate appears to be sealed, but they will go to Boldon in the hope of catching their hosts on one of their off-days.

Nathan Walton replaces Aaron Houghton for South Hetton, while Boldon keep faith with the side hammered at Willington last time out.

Meanwhile, Sunderland go to Seaham Habour with not too much at stake for either side other than pride.

The Wearsiders hope to have Usman Arshad available for the game, while Harbour bring in Andrew McKenna and Lewis Gustard for the unavailable Mark Marwood and Jack Lacey.