NE Premier League: Sunderland skipper looks to maintain form surge to steer clear of trouble

Whitburn bowler Keiran Waterson bowls Tynemouth opener Phil Morse at Whitburn on Saturday

Whitburn bowler Keiran Waterson bowls Tynemouth opener Phil Morse at Whitburn on Saturday

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It’s taken a while, but the sun is at last shining for Sunderland after they emerged from one of the gloomiest periods in their history with two successive victories.

Last September was the stuff of nightmares for the Wearsiders. Seemingly certain to retain their Premier Division status going into the final two games of the season, the most amazing sequence of results ended in an almost unbelievable relegation – a fate they had all winter to ponder.

Whether or not it was the hangover from that shock to their system, the opening weeks of their First Division campaign saw a continuation of the poor form that had dogged the second half of their 2014 summer.

But after eight winless games dumped them at the foot of the table, and in real danger of dropping out of the NEPL altogether, the tide appears to have turned with consecutive Sunderland victories over Sacriston and Seaham Harbour.

Skipper Greg Applegarth, understandably relieved at the change in fortunes, reflected on his side’s progress.

He said: “We’ve had a tough start to the season, with quite a few players being unavailable and the pro arriving late, so now we’ve got a couple of wins under our belts hopefully we can string a bit of a run together and see where it takes us.

“There’s still a lot of cricket left to play so I’m looking for us to be pushing up the table as the season goes on.”

The two wins lifted them from bottom to ninth, but there is still work to do as they are still only 17 points above the relegation slot which new incumbents Tudhoe currently occupy.

And it’s to Tudhoe that Sunderland go on Saturday for the latest in a series of crucial matches.

Despite Tudhoe’s precarious position this will be no cakewalk for the newly confident Sunderland, as their hosts will be back to full strength following the return from holiday of Ian Grainger and Patrick Stephenson, and the inclusion of top batsman Simon Davies and skipper Ross Hodgson after they missed last week’s action through social commitments.

At the opposite end of the table, super-confident Eppleton put their unbeaten record on the line at Burnmoor, where their hosts have Owen Lancaster back.

But with Kevin Dixon away, and Neil Young still injured, 16–year-old Riley Blunt deservedly keeps his place after top scoring in the defeat at Washington last week.

Washington hold a 17-point lead over second-placed Eppleton, but they also face an examination of their title credentials when they go to Boldon.

Stu Poynter is back from his Ireland commitments, and Joe Coyne also returns, while Washington remain unchanged.

Alfred Mathoa returns to the South Hetton side hosting Willington after recovering from his hamstring problem, while Shaoib Akhtar may play for Seaham Harbour when they entertain Sacriston.

Mattie Cowling is back for Brandon when they seek to get over two successive losses at home to Felling.

Sunday’s quarter-finals of the Banks Salver see Harbour travelling to injury-ravaged Blaydon, and Eppleton entertaining Newcastle.