NE Premier League: Hetton Lyons target safety surge in crunch Whitburn showdown

Whitburn squad members (back left-right) Ross Carty, Daniel Sherburn, Daniel Woolston, Andrew Turns, Scott Condy and Neil Ayre, (front left-right) Mark Elliott, Lee Henderson, Michael Turns, Luke Smith and Andrew Brandt Picture: DAVID WOOD
Whitburn squad members (back left-right) Ross Carty, Daniel Sherburn, Daniel Woolston, Andrew Turns, Scott Condy and Neil Ayre, (front left-right) Mark Elliott, Lee Henderson, Michael Turns, Luke Smith and Andrew Brandt Picture: DAVID WOOD
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ThePremier Division season reaches the half way point on Saturday when teams play match day 11 of 22.

And while there is still plenty of time left it already appears that the die is well and truly cast in terms of title honours and relegation.

The championship looks distinctly two-horsed, and Gateshead Fell need a repeat of their September 2014 miracle to avoid the drop on this occasion.

Hetton Lyons did themselves a huge favour last week with a comprehensive victory over the Fell.

That first win of the league campaign lifted Lyons 53 points clear of the relegation slot and also enabled them to leapfrog Whitburn, who were involved in a weather-affected draw at Tynemouth.

Hetton now hold a four-point lead over their rivals, with the two meeting at Lilywhite Terrace on Saturday, and the chance is there for one of them to banish any lingering concerns.

Ross Carty comes back in to keep wicket for Whitburn, although stand-in Paul Shields stays in the team as a batter, with Luke Smith the one to drop down.

Kieran Waterson made his seasonal debut last week after overcoming longstanding back injury problems that caused him to miss the whole of the 2014 season.

He came through the game well, picking up a couple of wickets, so he is set to feature again and his experience could prove vital to the side over the rest of the summer.

Lyons go into the game without skipper Shaun Birbeck because of work commitments, so Gary Scott takes over the captaincy duties and David Lowther fills the vacant position in the team.

The one lingering worry for both Whitburn and Hetton is a sudden uplift in form for the Fell, who have so far failed to win a single match.

The litmus test for them is likely to come on Saturday, when they face up to a demoralised Blaydon team who are just coming off the back of the worst weekend in their NEPL history.

Bowled out for a paltry 45 in last Friday night’s T20 at Benwell Hill, they followed that 24 hours later with a new record low for them when they were dumped out for just 38 by the Academy.

To pile on more misery, they now have significant injury problems with Graeme Bridge likely to be out for five weeks after having his broken and dislocated finger pinned.

Kiwi Ken McClure will miss the next fortnight after tearing his abductor muscle and Mark Drake is still sidelined by a knee problem.

To add to their woes, Ross and Grant Nicholson are unavailable, so Craig Burke, Jamie Wightman and Mark Cawthorn are added to the team for the clash with Fell.

All this presents Gateshead with an ideal opportunity to get their recovery moving, and they show just one change with Rob Stacey in for Richie Smith.

Chester-le-Street take on the Academy at Ropery Lane, but have to reckon without Mark Turner. It’s another hectic weekend for many clubs, with tomorrow night’s final round of group games in the

T20 and the Banks Salver quarter-finals on Sunday, while Chester, involved in all three, roundoff their weekend with a trip to Tudhoe.