SOUTH Shields took a massive step towards an immediate return to the top flight when they hammered South Hetton by 159 runs while, at the same time, second-placed Brandon were losing at home to Sacriston.
As a result, Shields head into their last two games with a healthy 37-point lead over Washington, who moved one point ahead of Brandon in the standings when they defeated Willington.
Shields face trips to both Brandon and Washington in the next fortnight, but they would have to lose heavily in both to throw away their advantage.
A home game against a club who have won just once all season was the only incentive Shields needed to go for the throat, and they did so emphatically as they blasted out 274-3 in 48 overs before declaring.
Aussie Tim David led the onslaught with 12 boundaries in a 141-ball 108, and then Gordon Muchall piled on the agony for the bottom club as he blasted 11 fours and one six on his way to an unbeaten 110 scored from just 93 balls.
Understandably, South Hetton were on the back foot when the run chase began. When Chris Stewart blew away the top order in an opening 11-over burst in which he bagged five wickets for 40 runs, the game was up. Sam Taylor-Gell then nipped in to claim three cheap victims as the visitors slid to 115 all out inside 30 overs.
Brandon’s brief spell in second spot was over no sooner than it had begun, Sacriston showing the sort of form everyone knows they are capable of.
There were runs all round, although Callum Appleby was the only one to make it past the half-century mark.
His 54 complemented 41s from Dan Anderson and Ian Hunter, while number nine Graham Hubber smacked 43 from 34 balls to lift his team’s final total to an impressive 259-9.
Brandon then looked well on course when they reached 95-1 with John Carmedy (41) and Stu Poynter (37) going well, but when they were dismissed within a few runs of each other the rot set in and despite a feisty 61 from Chris Winn, the home team eventually fell 38 runs short as Martin Hubber (4-49) bowled splendidly.
Washington moved into second place when they defeated Willington by five wickets. Set a target of 180-9 Washington were in dire straits on 80-5, but then the in-form Ashley Thorpe (63 not out) was joined by Mel Betts (46 not out) and their unbroken century partnership had the game won with 11 overs to spare.
Eppleton’s chances are all but gone despite a fine four-wicket win at Boldon. The victory only garnered 22 points to leave them with 39 to make up in the final two games, and it is hard to see that gap being bridged.
Boldon’s innings was a strange affair.
They looked like being humiliated when they slumped to 46-7 as Rizwan Ullah (3-26) and Zaheer Shahbaz (4-34) were bowling their 15 overs each, but once they were out of the attack Geoff Sargon launched a counter offensive from the number nine slot, smashing a belligerent 70 to lift the home team to 160.
The Eppleton run chase encountered a bit of a blip when they went from 70-0 to 113-5, but Gary Burlinson’s 64, and an unbeaten 33 from Ullah, ensured there was sufficient petrol left in the tank to secure a four wicket win.
Seaham Harbour maintained their improved form with a three-wicket home win over Felling.
Stewart Pattison was the main man with 3-38 and an unbeaten 56 that rescued his side from impending defeat on 49-6 to unlikely success as the target of 157 was knocked off.