Scurr blow, but Eppleton are geared up to make more progress

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THE stop-start nature of the Dukes North East Premier League First Division season so far has left clubs desperate for some action on Saturday, writes Chris West.

If the weather can be kind for once, there are one or two juicy league games to look forward to this weekend.

With only 10 teams in the division, there was a delayed start to the regular league season as the one-off Mini-League was used as a gap filler, and that was followed by two complete washouts in the first four rounds of matches, leaving many clubs frustrated.

With just 18 matches comprising the campaign, and four already gone, there is now little room for error for those sides wishing to claim the one promotion place on offer in September.

While form has been fleeting for some, Eppleton have flourished, with victories in both their played matches accompanied by 100 per cent success in the T20 competition to date.

The Church Road club play in a five-team group and if they win their next sectional game at Seaham Harbour tomorrow night they will be virtually assured of qualification for the quarter-finals.

But Saturday represents the big day, with Boldon the visitors to Eppleton.

Boldon’s victory last time out against one of the title favourites, Brandon, marked them out as a team to be respected. With new signing Neil Johnson set to make his delayed league debut, Eppleton’s rich vein of form looks like being tested.

Eppleton have a couple of injury concerns, although both Zaheer Shahbaz (tennis elbow) and Riswan Ullah (arm muscle strain) are expected to be fit enough to take their place in an unchanged line-up, the only absentee being Craig Scurr.

He is currently sidelined by a hamstring problem, although tests suggest it is a pull rather than a tear, with the recovery period likely to be three to four weeks.

Sacriston are in Group D of the T20 alongside Eppleton, but their record is the exact opposite – two defeats from their two matches – so their game against Durham Academy tomorrow night has assumed must-win proportions.

Of more concern to them will be a positive result in Saturday’s home game against Brandon.

Sacriston are currently second in the table, 15 points behind leaders South Shields, and if they can topple one of their closest rivals for honours it will put a massive dent in Brandon’s promotion hopes as they are already 39 points off the number one slot.

With Tony Claughan back, Sacriston are at full strength for this one.

Leaders South Shields go to South Hetton with a slightly weaker side than the last few weeks.

Durham batsman Gordon Muchall is unlikely to be available, while recent signing Rob Gibson has returned to Hampshire and, with his university studies finished, he is unlikely to be back in the region for the rest of the season.

Mark Appleton comes into the side, while the Wood Terrace club will continue their rotation policy with a couple of youngsters.

South Hetton have to reckon without Daniel Stewart (stag do) and bring in Liam Houghton.

Shields continue their T20 campaign tomorrow night with a home game against Brandon. Both teams boast 100 per cent records so something has to give.

Seaham Harbour have to make two changes this weekend.

Jack Lacey is tied up with work, while Peter Hambleton is unavailable, so Andrew Stephenson and Niall Cowell are handed an opportunity.

Harbour keep drawing plaudits, but they do need to start delivering on their promise as they are currently in the bottom two without a win to their name.

Saturday’s hosts, Felling, are in the same boat as Harbour, still winless and just one place above their opponents.